The GST - loved by economists and hated by voters - has always provided fertile ground for political opportunists of various stripes. Remember Jean Chrétien's campaigning Liberals implying that they would scrap the tax if they won the election? And Sheila Copps actually having to resign her seat for having been too clear on the commitment? Mr. Chrétien, on the other hand -being an experienced and wily politician - didn't make that mistake. Instead, he and Paul Martin proceeded to make use of its bounteous revenues to keep the IMF hounds at bay and restore Canada's fiscal fitness.
These days in Ontario, the provincial Conservatives - the party of Jim Flaherty - are attacking Premier Dalton McGuinty for harmonizing the provincial sales tax with Ottawa's GST. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, Michael Ignatieff was embarrassed when the Premier let it be known that a Liberal government under Ignatieff would be doing pretty much the same thing.
Yesterday, on the west coast, the provincial Conservatives - the party of the GST's father, Brian Mulroney - were out protesting against the HST brought in by Liberal Finance Minister Colin Hansen. That would be the same Conservative Party that promised in its May election platform to "aggressively investigate the benefits of harmonizing the B.C. PST with the federal GST." Yet there they were in Victoria, where I live, linking arms with New Democrats - a party not heretofore known for its commitment to low spending and low taxes - at a rally organized by former Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm. A rally that attracted some 300 souls.
How strange is this alliance?
For readers outside British Columbia, or for those too young to remember, here's a useful reminder. As to where tax revolts fuelled by referenda can lead, we in British Columbia need only look south, where another handsome, charismatic leader with a faintly European accent has brought his once-promising state to the verge of a meltdown.