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Maxed Out

The people hash shpoken



You can fool some of the people some of the time. Usually, fooling some of the people is enough to accomplish what you want. Exhibit A: Stephen Harper's Conservative government, fooling enough people into believing his party had an enviable track record of sound fiscal management.

You can fool all of the people some of the time. Magicians rely on this trick to make magic seem like, well, magic. It goes a long way to explaining why they don't generally show you the same trick twice.

But you can't fool all the people all the time. And that's where things pretty much went off the rails for the provincial Liberals last week. To perhaps no one's surprise - except economists, the Fraser Institute, the Vancouver Board of Trade and the CFIB - British Columbians voted to axe the HST, notwithstanding it's going to cost an arm and a leg to do so. Presumably, having already lost an arm and leg to the "revenue neutral" (sic) HST, they figured "in for a penny, in for a pound."

The vote wasn't even close; 52 per cent of eligible voters - a higher turnout than the previous general election - voted 54 per cent to scrap the tax. Had PM Harper polled such numbers he may well have cracked a smile.

So, what got people so riled up? The short answer is hubris. The Liberal government, particularly under Real-Entry Campbell, raised hubris to an art form... or so they thought. They not only lost contact with the political reality of ruling at the pleasure of the people who voted for them, they forgot the cardinal lesson of politics: Perception is reality.

They sprung the HST on people who had just voted them back into office, after completely failing to mention they might be thinking along those lines during the election. They apparently thought tax policy wasn't important? Especially when it introduced taxes on things previously untaxed?

They said it would be revenue neutral. That prices of goods would go down because business would pass on the savings of the HST to consumers. Less than a year in, it turned out revenue neutral meant an extra $700 million tax dollars in the bank account and no sign that businessfolk even knew what prices going down meant.

They said, "Oops, we'll fix it." In two years. One might have thought if they could introduce it so quickly, they could adjust it equally as fast.

Then to cap it off, they made no real attempt to persuade voters their nemesis, Willy Woodenshoes, was wrong and they were right. They used stick men to try to lie voters into thinking a reduction in the tax two years from now was like money in the bank today and they wasted a lot of those tax dollars ineffectively trying to do so.

Adios HST.

I don't know if Chrissy Clark is any smarter than Gordo was. At least when it comes to the HST one can mount a good argument anyone would have to be smarter than Gordo was. But I think her best bet to win back voters and ensure herself of a term of office longer than whatever's left of the term she inherited, she'd be well served to call an election right away and campaign on the merits of doing the HST right.

Say what?

Here's why. The HST is a lame duck tax. It isn't going away for another 18 months. It really is a better tax, albeit poorly implemented. And, most important, it's very likely quite a few people voted not necessarily to scrap it, but to deliver a well-deserved smackdown to the Liberal government.

So cowgirl up, Chrissy. Campaign on a more realistic, say, 10 per cent HST. Campaign on the merits and economic sense of doing it right, which is to say doing it honestly. I suspect there are still enough people scared shitless of a NDP government to buy into a little Liberal honesty, rare though that commodity has been. And what the heck, if you believe in it, run on it. Isn't it about time someone in politics ran on something vaguely approximating a principle?

Which, after a circuitous detour, brings us back to our friend, Cheryl Caldwell and the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch's decision to deny a stadium license to the Jazz on the Mountain at Whistler (JOMAW) festival this weekend.

In her rush to protect public safety, Ms. Caldwell seems to have overlooked an equally important principle of the LCLB: Having due regard for community standards.

Among the nuggets of wisdom included in the general operating principles of the LCLB is giving due consideration to the opinions of neighbourhoods and communities in granting licenses. On both counts, the decision to try to hamstring JOMAW with a beer garden model flies in the face of community standards and local opinion.

It also plays into the trap we see over and over again when new people in authority - RCMP and liquor inspectors in particular - roll into town. Not that Ms. Caldwell is a new person. "Whistler's no different than Moose Jaw," or wherever. Generally, it only takes some gentle socialization for people with half a brain and an open mind to conclude this town is, in fact, different from many others.

We're a place people come to have a good time. They come to vacation. They come to do something they don't generally do where they live.

Not unsurprisingly, they don't generally come here to drink themselves blind. And if they did, they'd likely choose some place other than a very public festival grounds with monopoly pricing on drinks. Duh.

Local council and staff recognized this when they supported JOMAW's application. They also, implicitly, recognized it's hard to compete with free. JOMAW is the first attempt to mount a paid-admission event at a venue people associate with free entertainment, not to mention one that has special challenges to creating a paid environment adjacent to a free sidewalk with, arguably, just as good sound.

It isn't going to work without alternate sources of revenue and there isn't a more viable alternative than alcohol sales.

Even the uptight province of Ontario recognized the popularity of festival licensing when they changed their regulations this summer to give communities the power to make these decisions for themselves. It seems to be another point lost on Ms. Caldwell... who's supposed to keep things like this in mind when making a decision.

So what's a civic-minded jazz fan to do? Perhaps it time to fall back on our old friend, civil disobedience. Some laws, some rulings simply need an example of people power to be overturned. Kind of like scraping the HST.

I don't know how tight bag checks are going to be this weekend but vodka in a water bottle looks like a bottle of water. White wine looks like lemonade, red like cranberry... you understand. It's easy to harass a handful of people drinking openly. It's a little harder to harass, say, 3,000.




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