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A referendum on the HST?

When I was at sea recently – NO, not that sort of at sea, I mean on the ocean – I read a weighty but masterful book called The Life And Death Of Democracy, by Australian historian John Keane who also, incidentally authored a fine biography of Thomas Paine a few years ago. Amongst many things he talks of the “monitor democracy” which has, in addition to the levers of government, outside monitoring agencies such as polling, think tanks, lobby groups and, of course, institutions like thetyee.ca. These have come about because the “system” poses few constraints on a government between elections. It is this fact, of course, that’s led to Recall and Referendum procedures in many jurisdictions, including ours.

Recall and Referenda are seen by many to be dangerous because they often mean premature judgements by voters. The government usually argues that much legislation or policy is unpopular at first and it needs the fullness of time before it can be fairly judged. This is the reason that BC’s rules make it difficult unto impossible to get Recall or Referendum actually to the voting stage. Indeed, I remember interviewing Ujjal Dosanjh after he, as an NDP backbencher, had chaired a Legislative Committee that had toured the province then made a report which told of the enormous support Recall and Referendum had amongst the people then recommended conditions which made both notions all but impossible to implement. When I pointed out this obvious inconsistency Dosanjh just smiled and told me that even though over 80% voted for Recall and Referendum in the 1991 election and the public had voiced their overwhelming support to the Committee, these procedures ought not to be easily implemented! This demonstrates, if more proof is needed, that when politicians piously talk about doing what the public wants done they mean, of course, unless what the public wants done keeps the politician from doing what he wants to do.

That entire process was interesting. The dying Socreds added a Referendum and Recall referendum to the 1991 election process. The NDP under Mike Harcourt were caught in a bind. They knew that the Socreds were playing games. It was, after all, they that did everything they could to avoid Bill Vander Zalm having to face a secret confidence vote at their 1986 convention. Even though the Socreds move reeked of hypocrisy, the NDP believed that they had no choice but to compound that hypocrisy by supporting it. Dosanjh and his NDP colleagues on the committee were on a mission to love the idea to death which they did.

Let us assume that government’s pleas for mercy have merit. What if it `’s not a new policy that has provoked public anger but government deceit by which they won the election they needed to impose their will? Suppose a government suppresses the truth about the state of the government’s finances? What if, during the campaign, the Premier and Finance Minister say that a “harmonized” sales tax isn’t even on their radar screen then do it immediately thereafter?

Let’s go one step further. Suppose there are two matters of serious public policy that the government simply refused to address during the campaign and the Opposition was too pathetic to raise them. Yes, I’m talking about fish farms and ruination of our rivers to provide power for export.

Now in the latter two matters the government would say that if the Opposition is too stupid to properly raise issues that’s too bad for them. And I agree. It is too bad for them. But I’m not talking about the plight of the NDP but that of the general public and generations to come. Is the public to be condemned because the process has failed them? Is the government able to say to the public tee hee on you … see what the NDP did to you because they ran a lousy campaign?

Surely that’s one of the reasons, indeed the main reason that Recall and Referendum legislation exists. Moreover, if the government believes that it was not dishonest in the campaign and that their fisheries and energy policies are in the best interests of the people why would they fear putting that to the test?

There now is an active move to put the HST to referendum. This may never happen. The anti-HST coalition – of rather strange bedfellows I might add – may lose steam. This issue may not have the legs to carry the coalition through the many procedural steps necessary to make the ballot a reality.

If, and it’s a very big “if”, the Referendum does get off the ground it will not be, in reality, simply on the HST although that’s what’s on the ballot. We saw in the recall campaign of former NDP Finance Minister Paul Ramsey that the issues raised had little, if anything, to do with his role as MLA in his constituency but everything to do with how he handled his portfolio and even more yet to do with the overall government record. Perhaps that ought not to have been so but it was.

The Campbell government would have some worries even if people just took an HST referendum as being no more than that. But the Campbell/Kinsella government knows that unofficial though they may be, their campaign lies – and there’s no other word for it – as well as their atrocious fish farm and energy policies will be front and centre in voters’ minds.

Now of course, dear readers, you know that I would be horrified at a referendum vote which got out of hand so that this hideous bunch of far right wing political misfits had to defend their entire indefensible record; but how could I, an elderly chap from the boondocks of Lions Bay, do anything about voters who insist on being naughty?

I do know one thing for sure – the Campbell/Kinsella autocracy do not want a referendum and will do all in their power’ as will their poodles of the press, to see that this doesn’t happen.

Makes you think a bit, doesn’t it? If this government and their media buddies don’t want a referendum maybe for that reason alone we should have one!

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