Why Premier Gordon Campbell's HST spin campaign is doomed
Effective public-relations campaigns often rely on third-party endorsers.
In these instances, a person or an organization with little credibility doesn't deliver the message.
Instead, someone who is more trusted is recruited as the pitchman or pitchwoman.
There are lots of examples. Pharmaceutical companies find patient-advocacy groups to push PharmaCare to cover the cost of new prescription drugs. These same patient-advocacy groups lobby the media to cover their efforts.
Forest companies have funded campaigns that rely on ordinary citizens to argue in favour of logging. Corporate spin doctors know that the average Joe is more trusted than a guy in a pinstriped suit who makes $2 million per year.
In the 1960s, General Electric recruited Ronald Reagan to soothe the public.
Like the pharmaceutical giants, forest companies, and General Electric, Premier Gordon Campbell finds himself in a similar predicament. His problem is the harmonized sales tax, which he never mentioned in the campaign leading up to the May 12, 2009 provincial election.
The HST is a $1.9-billion annual tax shift from business to individuals. That benefits the corporate sector, which donated generously to the B.C. Liberals before the 2009 election.
The premier and the finance minister, Colin Hansen, have maintained that they didn't consider introducing the HST until after the election. They said they had to act because Ontario was planning to introduce the HST.
This claim sounds ridiculous to many people for two reasons. Ontario's HST was included in the McGuinty government's March 26, 2009 budget after some consultation. Secondly, prairie provinces and Quebec don't have an HST.
Hence, there's a lack of trust with whatever Campbell and Hansen might say on the topic.
This morning, the Vancouver Sun published an opinion piece about the HST from a former B.C. Liberal attorney general, Geoff Plant. Plant is a former roommate of the premier's while they were both on the opposition side of the legislature in Victoria.
In the coming weeks, I expect we'll see more opinion pieces in the Vancouver Sun and other newspapers from friends and supporters of the premier.
These third-party endorsers will try to create a chorus of support for the HST. They will argue that harmonization will stimulate the economy. They'll claim that Bill Vander Zalm's initiative can't defeat the tax because it's a creation of federal law. And they'll point to value-added taxes in other parts of the world to make it appear as though B.C. is merely falling in line with economic common sense.
In the end, I'm betting that they'll fail to win over the public. That's because none of these arguments will address the central issue stoking the outrage: that Campbell and Hansen didn't tell voters of the tax during the election campaign.
There's a belief in some quarters that the B.C. Liberals had a secret agenda. So far, the skeptics haven't heard a convincing argument that the premier and Hansen were not planning the HST before the election.
The impossibility of third-party endorsers to address this concern will ensure there will be vigorous recall campaigns. They might finish off the careers of some B.C. Liberal MLAs.
Anti-HST sentiments, driven by a perceived lack of transparency during the 2009 election campaign, will probably also force the premier to retire before the next election.
That's if he manages to survive a recall campaign in his constituency of Vancouver-Point Grey.
In this regard, Campbell will resemble Brian Mulroney, who resigned as prime minister on June 25, 1993 to avoid overwhelming humiliation at the hands of voters later that year.
The premier is looking like a lame duck. Maybe it's time for political cartoonists across the country to start drawing him this way.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.