With B.C.'s own tea partiers nipping at his heels, Premier Gordon Campbell has tried to calm an angry electorate with the only balm that might soothe - a whopping tax cut.
He spent $240,000 on a televised address on Wednesday night to say he won't budge on the harmonized sales tax, that it remains the right choice for the province. But he capitulated to the current anti-tax sentiment by using up the lion's share of his budget's wiggle room to slash personal income taxes.
In his "dark moments" the Premier rues the day he agreed to harmonize the province's sales tax with the federal GST, he said in an interview on Thursday.
"To be honest, there are days where I think, 'Well I guess maybe we could have just gone with the $1.6-billion of additional costs, or service cuts,' " he said, referring to the deficit that the province was facing before it got a cash infusion from Ottawa in exchange for an HST deal.
"Those are only dark moments; the fact of the matter is we always have an obligation to do what's right."
The tax change was announced with no warning just weeks after the May, 2009, B.C. election, but even without those extraordinary circumstances, the state of the economy alone would have made it a tough sell.
"People are angry about taxes, they are angry about what is taking place," Mr. Campbell said. "The world is changing. It's a very disruptive place right now and it's unsettling to people."
Unsettling to political incumbents, too. At the local level, anti-tax revolts have been simmering across the country. B.C. voters have recently opposed community projects from new bridges and arenas to curling rink upgrades, even rejecting federal stimulus money rather than pay a dime more in property taxes.
Mr. Campbell knows something about taxpayer revolts, having led one himself. He was mayor of Vancouver when he railed against tax increases launched by the B.C. New Democratic Party government of the day. He organized anti-tax rallies, gathered petition signatures, handed out "Taxed to the Max" buttons. It would prove to be his springboard into provincial politics.
Over the past year, like the Tea Party movement in the United States, the Fight HST campaign in B.C. has harnessed the mood, threatening the B.C. Liberal party's decade-long hold on government.
So banking against very preliminary fiscal results, Mr. Campbell this week found more than half a billion dollars worth of income tax cuts , allowing B.C. to claim the lowest personal income taxes in the country for anyone earning $130,000 or less.
Finance Minister Colin Hansen said he is confident that the province will still hit its target to eliminate the deficit three years from now. Better-than-expected corporate income tax returns have allowed him to project $2.1-billion in "unallocated" revenues over the next three years. The tax cut will chew through $1.8-billion of that wiggle room.
Mr. Campbell said he wasn't paying the least attention earlier this week to the Toronto civic race, in which Rob Ford rode an anti-tax movement to the mayor's office. He's had enough troubles of his own, with his B.C. Liberal government facing its worst crisis in its three-term history.
"I was reading I was supposed to be paying special attention to the Toronto election," Mr. Campbell said. "It wasn't what I was thinking about."
Instead, he was thinking about how to restore consumer confidence to protect the province's fragile economic recovery, something the HST apparently wasn't helping.
By offering a 15-per cent reduction to the province's personal income-tax rate, he does no favours for his fellow premiers, particularly Ontario's Dalton McGuinty, who faces a provincial election in less than a year.
"I don't think there's going to be a big appetite for tax cuts in Ontario," said Derek Burleton, deputy chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, noting that Ontario's record $19.3-billion deficit allows little room to follow suit.
An Ontario government official argued that Mr. Campbell is just playing catch-up. Mr. McGuinty used a chunk of the $4.3-billion in federal funding for the HST to provide temporary and permanent tax relief to residents, helping mute the reaction to the new tax.
With a report from Karen Howlett in Toronto