The recent and ongoing troubles over the HST reflect an increasing disquiet in the public mind as to the purpose of government. What is it we want these people to do? Do they work "for us" or for other segments of society? What, after all, is "the public interest"?
Is it possible that the revolt against the HST is not so much an objection to the tax per se, albeit there may be good reason to think aspects of it unfair. Are citizens beginning to question the overall fairness of how governments are excercising their mandates?
B.C. (and by extension, Canada) has become the relative paradise it is because over the past half-century or so, governments here have enacted laws and policies which have enabled ordinary citizens to achieve a standard of living the envy, still, of billions on the planet (also a fairness issue, but I leave that to another time).
The issue now is how to maintain local prosperity while big corporations, enabled by recent government policies, have been able to remove from national taxation, much or all of their wealth.
Business corporations, while able to operate internationally, have been able to get governments locally to shift taxes to other parts of society. Individuals, generally, are less able to avoid their taxes by such manoeuvres. The World Trade Organization, for instance, is a mechanism of this process.
The HST revolt is pushback against this process.
What is needed is the fact, not merely the perception, of fairness in the policies and taxation by which our governments operate. They need to be fair referees for all, not just cheerleaders for one sector of society. After all, businesses large and small benefit greatly from the secure, infrastructure rich environment B.C. and Canada have provided, mainly as a result of public policy in the past. There are many places in which Canadian business people operate, but would they want to live there?
What is needed is for tax burdens to be shared fairly among all sectors. The income tax, if applied "progressively," is fairer than consumption taxes like HST, PST and GST. The problem is how to tax corporations that can "hide" internationally? The answer is to pressure governments everywhere to act to protect rights beyond trading.
A World Trade Organization, if you like, for labour standards, conditions and minimums, at least, for wages. An international regime to repatriate taxes fairly is not beyond our capacity. In the same way, a tax on international financial transactions could be instituted by such agreements among nations.
Meanwhile, people have few options to redress unfair tax burdens aside from actions like our HST conflict. I hope people are waking up to the fact that they are generally not better off under the policies that have been followed these last three decades.
Colin Dover, New Westminster