May 5, 2011

Lessons for Ottawa from Victoria, Lessons for Victoria from Ottawa


Many Canadians have expressed fear about what our new national government, a majority elected by a 39% minority, will do now that it has four years of real power.  For those concerned Canadians, British Columbia offers a lesson.

BC’s government has discovered from an independent study that their HST is not revenue neutral.  It will cost the average family $350.  And now the Premier claims she is going to “fix” it.  How did this come to be?

I think you could count on the fingers of both hands the people who believe this came as a surprise to the government.  People believe they were lied to.  People believe the HST was just one more move to raise their taxes and lower taxes for corporations. 

More than half a million people signed a petition to force a referendum on the HST and so the government acted.  They acted not because it was the right thing to do; they acted because they had been caught.  They were caught by a coalition of right and left who for their own reasons took the issue to the streets.

Last week I had the privilege of hearing American commentator Amy Goodman speak at the CCPA fundraiser.  Among the many things that stood out for me was a comment about Barrack Obama.  She told the audience that, fundamentally, it was hard for the President to take progressive actions unless he could point to thousands of people on the lawn of the White House and say, “They made me do it.”

BC’s new Premier, if she was honest, would say the same thing: “They made me do it.” 

That is what it is going to take to stand up to Stephen Harper.  A reinvigorated opposition with members from across Canada can play a critical role.  But without the credibility of a movement behind them they will have little authority.  Without the action of women, environmentalists, labour, first nations, farmers and people who simply believe in democracy, a Parliamentary opposition will not be sufficient. 

The federal election demonstrated the critical role young people can play in such a movement.  Tria Donaldson wrote an article on the Rabble web site where she accurately reports:

The election saw a crescendo of movement building across this country. Young people organizing across the country shaped the narrative of this election, and it looks like we increased voter turnout. We inspired thousands and built a strong foundation to build on in future elections.

That creativity and vigor played a critical role that we can only hope to earn in British Columbia in our own coming election, probably this fall.

It is not enough to be afraid of what our new national government might do.  If we want to do anything about it, we will need to push back.  The one thing we cannot do is let our fear make us silent.