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May 31, 2010

Did Campbell or Hansen lie?

"I am not a crook."
Richard M. Nixon

Gordon Campbell and Colin Hansen appear to have concluded that the public is angry because they feel they were deceived in the May 2009 election rather than because of the HST itself. That could change after July 1st when people see the particulars of the Hated Sales Tax.

Hansen wrote a letter to the editor, published in the Province on May 18th, in which he claimed that the BC Liberals did not promise during the election that there would be no HST; he said that during the campaign volunteers at party headquarters answered questionnaires saying the HST: "is not something that is contemplated in the B.C. Liberal platform."

In the remaining four sitting days of the BC Legislature's spring session, the NDP should seize on the opportunity in question period to ask whether Colin Hansen wrote and stands by every word in the letter published over his name in the May 18th Province. Given the tone of the letter, he might later claim that the Public Affairs Bureau, the Premier's Office or some unnamed bureaucrat penned and submitted the letter on his behalf, but he never saw it.

Peter Simpson, chief executive officer of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association, clearly doesn't buy Hansen's excuse. Published in the Vancouver Sun on May 29th, Simpson wrote:

I was somewhat puzzled after reading the last sentence in the minister's letter to the editor: "After the election, Finance Ministry staff brought forward new information regarding the HST that led the government to decide in July to eliminate the PST and harmonize the provincial seven-per-cent share with the federal GST."

Here's the thing: why did it take so long for Finance Ministry officials to compile data and bring forward new information on the HST, when all they had to do was contact their Ontario counterparts?

And I have a difficult time believing ministry staff did not brief Hansen as early as March 2009, when Ontario announced it was adopting HST -well before the B.C. election. If not, why not?

CKNW focused day-long programming on the HST, broadcasting live from the Vancouver Convention Centre during the BC Chamber of Commerce's bun toss. The May 30th edition of the Province quoted Campbell and Hansen, during their appearance on CKNW. Headlined "Campbell and Hansen insist they made no HST promise", the story reported that "Both politicians stuck to their position that they made no promise not to implement a harmonized sales tax policy during the election."

According to a poll published by Angus Reid on April 17th: "Two-thirds of respondents (67%) say they would definitely sign the petition to repeal the new tax if a person knocked on their door, and a further 14 per cent would probably sign it." The anti-HST petition will likely gather more signatures than the 752,000 votes the BC Liberals got in the 2009 election, but what is worse for the Liberals is that, according to Angus Reid's poll, the petition will have barely scratched the surface of voter anger. All the petitioners have to do is set up a table and a sign; voters line up to sign the petition. They don't have to go door-to-door. Many signing the petition say that they are disappointed they had to wait so long to find a place to sign.

Worse than being caught in a lie, is denying the lie. Is that too complicated for the BC Liberal spin doctors? In Angus Reid's poll, 52% of respondents rank the BC Liberals as dishonest. It is too late for Campbell, Hansen or any other BC Liberal to claim they did not lie. Their most credible defense that they did not lie is that they are incompetent. In its March 25th, 2009 budget, Ontario announced that it would implement the HST. It is inconceivable that Campbell didn't consider that going into the May 2009 BC election. His claim that new facts came to light just days after the election is not credible; if true, it shows that he is not fit to govern, yet that is the spin Campbell and Hansen are putting out in response to voter anger.

Hint to the BC Liberals: When you are in a hole, stop digging. The BC Liberals are bringing in the heavy machinery. Statements by Campbell and Hansen suggest that after the petition period ends on July 5th, they will launch a campaign with tax dollars to tell voters why they were foolish to sign the anti-HST petition. Don't hold your breath waiting for them to say how many millions of your dollars they are spending on their ill-conceived campaign. Whoever is responsible for their political strategy should resign. Minds are made up; British Columbians want to know how BC will get out of the HST, not that the government knows best and the voters were confused by misinformation.