By Bill Vander Zalm
There is an unwritten rule that former premiers don’t speak out against sitting premiers regarding policy decisions. The reason for this is that being the leader of the government is a distinct and rare privilege. Once you’ve been there, you’ve had your chance to implement the changes you wanted to see, and the people who follow you are entitled to do the same.
But the problem here is that we have a premier who is operating more and more by stealth. The consequences of his actions are extremely damaging to our province, and in many cases, can never be reversed. The HST is just the latest betrayal—but for most British Columbians, it is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
It is one thing for a party or a candidate to promise something, and then, after being elected to government, find that the promise was unrealistic, or that new information makes implementing it impossible. In such cases, even though the public is rightly disappointed and angered, they will often forgive such a “broken promise”. It is quite another thing to promise “not” to do something, and then to turn around and do exactly the opposite.
Such a maneuver is incompetent at best, downright deceitful at worst. Take B.C. Rail for example. Gordon Campbell, having lost the 1996 election after revealing plans to sell the people’s railway, promised on a stack of Bibles never to sell it, or to even contemplate selling it. The ink had barely dried on the new premier’s letterhead when he arranged for a 999-year lease of the railway and the right of way. That is not a broken promise—that is a total fraud.
Then came B.C. Hydro. We were told Hydro was sacred. Then, we were told that in order to make it more efficient and cost effective, it had to be run by a big multinational in Bermuda. But hydro rates went up, not down.
The list goes on and on. B.C. Ferries had to be made in Germany instead of locally. The Sea to Sky had to be widened before Highway 1. The Port Mann Bridge must be tolled. The Liberals will fix health care and end surgery wait lists, but now we see wait times will lengthen under massive cuts to the number of surgical procedures that will coincide with the implementation of the HST. It’s all just ploy to pay for big Olympic projects that are out of control.
Where does it all end? With a raid by the RCMP on the legislature, where now we see the possibility that e-mail evidence related to the criminal trial has been ordered destroyed—by someone. Who the premier won’t tell us, nor is he asking who himself.
Premier Campbell spent a ton of money during the boom times of the world economy on big projects—some would say wasteful. Now, when times are tough, he is clawing it all back with cuts to services and a new HST tax grab to pay for it all. He’s got it backwards—so backwards that British Columbians will face big cuts, higher taxes, and no infrastructure projects sorely needed during a tough time. The cupboard is bare because all the food was eaten during good times.
I say Gordon Campbell knew all along that he was going to bring in this tax. Just like he knew he would sell B.C. Rail, carve up Hydro, and cut health-care services instead of fix health care.
If the media or the Opposition had been doing their job, I might not have needed to speak out. But to stand by and watch it all happen without trying to save the province I and so many others love and cherish would be a worse mistake.
We have organized a non-partisan rally for noon on September 19, in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. This rally will be the kickoff for a people’s initiative against the HST. The initiative will require 10 percent of the registered voters in each constituency to sign on within a 90-day period, and could force the government to hold a referendum on the question of whether we want the HST.
We can’t let this happen. Join me in saying no to the HST. Together, we can save B.C.
Bill Vander Zalm was the premier of British Columbia from 1986 to 1991 and is the author of Bill Vander Zalm: For the People.