Martyn Brown: Wilkinson’s PST “long bomb” taxes credulity as it would bankrupt B.C.

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      What is one to make of B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson’s desperate ploy to bribe us all with our own tax dollars?

      I am, of course, referring to his promise to first scrap the seven percent PST for a year and to then reinstate it, at three percent. 

      And to then raise it back up to its current rate, whenever our COVID hell freezes over and at least rich pigs fly. Ideally, Wilkinson suggests, just in time for the next election. 

      Cue the applause, which has so far been as deafening as an NFL game without the phony crowd noise piped in, when we all know what’s really going on.

      In the blood sport that is B.C. politics, the truth of Wilkinson’s disingenuous promise is as sad and empty as Seattle’s CenturyLink field.

      I guess when you are trailing your chief opponent by 18 points, recklessness knows no bounds. 

      Caution and good sense get thrown to the wind and even the craziest plays begin to make sense.

      Which begs the question: have we lost our minds? 

      It’s something many B.C. Liberals must be now asking themselves, shaking their heads in disbelief at the depths to which their leader has sunk in throwing out his misguided “Hail Mary”.

      Which might be more accurately described as a double “long bomb”: one that taxes credulity as it would bankrupt B.C., if it were ever to be successful in its only real aim. 

      And one that in the long run also stands to irreparably discredit the B.C. Liberals as a party that is still morally bankrupt and ever ready to forsake its supposed central tenet of “sound fiscal management” for the sake of power.

      But never mind the B.C. Liberals: have we all lost our minds? That is the overriding question this election will answer. 

      Are enough voters so delirious with greed and so bereft of sound bearing as to fall for Wilkinson’s mad gambit? 

      Surely, no one in their right mind would think it prudent to so deliberately and unnecessarily compound B.C.’s current $13-billion deficit by eliminating the province’s second largest source of revenue.

      No one in their right mind would think that the smartest way to help B.C. families or our economy cope with COVID is to kiss off 22 percent of taxation revenues, as the budget defines them.

      Certainly not any economist worthy of that label and “dismal science”.

      Only an idiot would ever believe that draining the provincial treasury of an amount of funding that is three times more than the cost of Gordon Campbell’s 25 percent income tax cut in 2001 won’t lead to massive cuts in health care, education, child protection, and other crucial public services.

      The B.C. NDP is running against Wilkinson's tax plan by explaining who benefits and what might be cut.
      B.C. NDP

      Buy now, pay later

      Consider this: that single regressive gift that Andrew Wilkinson is proposing—to mostly benefit those who least need a consumption tax cut—would add more to the direct debt in two years than the combined total debt from all of B.C.’s accumulated deficits at its highest, nearly 20 years ago. 

      And that’s assuming the Liberals keep their word not to cut services and to reimpose the full PST on the eve of the next election—neither of which is likely remotely believable.

      “Pay as you go” used to be the Liberals’ mantra, in that long lost era committed to balanced budgets, too often, at the expense of common sense in times of crisis.

      In the current context, no one is arguing that we should not be making the necessary public investments to maximize safety and minimize suffering as far as possible.

      Deficits are unavoidable as the prudent byproduct of properly managing taxpayers’ precious “contributions” to deliver fiscally sound and socially responsible good government.

      We might quibble at some of the decisions the Horgan adminstration has made in that regard, such as its gifts to B.C.’s largest companies, especially its massive subsidies to actually increase carbon pollution through increased fossil fuel production. 

      Its recent decision to eliminate the sales tax on machinery and equipment is another sticky one. It’s an enormously expensive tax break that has been long sought after by the oil and gas industry, mining companies, and forest companies, which no government has granted until now.

      But at least that’s a break on a form of capital tax that many argue has stifled desirable large corporate investments, which might help to create and sustain more jobs.

      Yet that’s not what the B.C. Liberals’ PST tax bribe is all about. 

      “Buy now and pay later” is their new motto—and it is that mindset that is going to severely challenge all Canadians, if governments continue on their current course.

      It’s the slimy sales pitch that lures people to buy on credit, until they are so swamped in debt they lose everything they value.

      “Buy now and pay later”—it’s the B.C. Liberals’ central appeal to all voters in this election.

      And pay later we all will, if we are so deranged as to buy Wilkinson’s plan after all we should have learned from the real costs of repaying massive tax cuts such as the ones that I directly or indirectly helped author in electing and serving the B.C. Liberal government that he also worked for.

      We should have learned, those debts from tax cuts pile up, year after year.

      Just that one single PST cut that Wilkinson is proposing will add probably at least $20 billion dollars in dead-weight debt within just a few short years.

      Every penny of that debt will have to be repaid, one way or another, through a combination of service cuts and future tax increases.

      Is that really the post-COVID future we want to knowingly wish upon ourselves, our children, and future generations?

      I shudder to think.

      Voters would have to be off their rockers to not understand that Wilkinson’s loopy long bomb will inevitably hit us all where it hurts. Especially those who are most vulnerable.

      Andrew Wilkinson's proposed PST cut amounts to nearly haf again as much as the Ministry of Education budget.

      Ministry costs tell the story

      Perhaps these numbers will help put the cost of his PST vote-bribe into perspective.

      Eliminating that vital single source of revenue would cost an amount equivalent to over one-third of the health ministry’s entire budget.

      It would cost nearly half again as much as the entire education ministry budget.

      It would cost more than twice what was budgeted for income assistance, poverty reduction, and other social development support services.

      It would cost almost 10 times more than the entire budget for transportation and infrastructure.

      That’s nuts. 

      Even nuttier, it would cost more than the combined pre-COVID ministry budgets for advanced education, skills and training; justice (attorney general); public safety; children and family development, citizens’ service; environment and climate change; indigenous relations and reconciliation; mental health and addictions; agriculture; jobs, economic development and competitiveness; labour; forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development; and tourism, arts and culture.

      And why? When so many crucial public goods are already exempt from the PST?

      Is that really the best use of taxpayers’ precious money to help B.C. families and small businesses weather this global pandemic?

      Do we really need to give someone who can afford to buy a $70,000 luxury car a $4,900 PST break, especially now? 

      I mean, if you are lucky enough to still have a job and are secure enough to convince the banks to lend you even $40,000 for a new vehicle, you probably don’t really need a $2,800 gift from other taxpayers who desperately need more direct help from government.

      At a time when restaurants, bars, and clubs are being driven into bankruptcy from necessary COVID safety precautions, cutting the PST is hardly their saving grace.

      They would benefit more from direct government aid to help them cope with the added costs of safeguarding their customers and employees, and retrofitting their establishments with plexiglass barriers, for example.

      Amazon’s Jeff Bezos might welcome the B.C. Liberals’ efforts to save consumers a bit of money in PST in buying a new computer, television, or any number of other such “must haves” in this unprecedented time of human need.

      Apple, Samsung, and Huawei are all probably thrilled to have Andrew Wilkinson on their team, doing his best to help them convince that now is really the best time to buy a new smartphone or tablet.

      God knows, if you’re rolling in dough and can afford to fork over maybe $50,000 to $80,000 for a new boat or RV, or even over $100K on a new yacht, you’d probably think you’ve won the lottery again—if the B.C. Liberals are elected to help you pay for those toys.

      But not if you’re one of B.C.’s countless struggling tourism operators, whose hotel rooms sit vacant and whose businesses are in danger of folding—not because of sales tax, but solely because of COVID-19.

      What about all of those small businesses that line our streets and fill our malls, most of them empty if not already shuttered? 

      They won’t attract a single new customer because of Wilkinson’s PST ploy. It will do nothing to materially aid their efforts to stay afloat and to put their employees back to work.

      Seriously, B.C.?

      Quarterback Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to six Super Bowl wins.
      Jeffrey Beall

      B.C. Liberal leader is no Tom Brady

      Are we so stark, raving nuts as to hand the B.C. Liberals absolute power, after all they did to hurt our province with Wilkinson at the centre of every huddle?

      One week into the campaign, it seems not.

      The polls show Premier John Horgan’s party so far out front it has left Wilkinson praying for a miracle and tossing out off-target duds.

      Most voters weren’t too impressed by Wilkinson's promise last week to scrap the widely popular speculation and vacancy tax, and replace it with a tax on flipped presale condo sales contracts.

      That went over like a lead balloon. Advantage John Horgan.

      Voters weren’t exactly cheering at Wilkinson’s promise to “completely overhaul property taxation”.

      Most know that is only B.C. Liberal code for tax cuts that would reduce Wilkinson’s own property taxes and further enrich his wealthy Shaughnessy neighbours. 

      That, from the party that has for decades urged Metro Vancouver mayors to raise property taxes, because successive B.C. Liberal governments were too cheap to properly fund public transit needs.

      Advantage Horgan’s Orange Crush, which addressed that need by funding 40 percent of TransLink’s expansion plans.

      Voters weren’t too impressed a year ago, when Wilkinson was pitching carbon tax cuts and fuel-tax reductions as his then “big idea” to reduce B.C.’s highest-in-Canada gas prices, which are largely due to his former government’s carbon pricing and fuel-tax hikes in the first place.

      Guess that misfire is not part of his current plan to make climate polluting less expensive.

      Voters turned away in droves from the B.C. Liberals. In part, because they doubled Medical Services Plan premiums—an unfair tax on health care that the NDP has altogether eliminated, saving many families $1,800 a year in after-tax income in the process.

      They support the NDP’s plan to strengthen investments in health care, funded in part by the employer health tax.

      Voters abandoned Wilkinson’s Red & Blue Meanies for good reason:

      Because the B.C. Liberals exponentially increased tuition costs, which Horgan’s government have at least partially softened by restoring interest-free student loans.

      Because the B.C. Liberals imposed costly new bridge tolls on Metro Vancouver commuters—tolls the NDP eliminated, to put about $1,500 a year of after-tax income back into those families' pockets.

      Because they grossly mismanaged ICBC and sent premiums skyrocketing, and left the NDP to do the dirty job of putting out the B.C. Liberals’ “dumpster fire.”

      Because they drove up B.C. Hydro rates and sent B.C. ferry fares through the roof—which the Horgan administration has dramatically reduced, as it has also restored ferry service routes and levels savaged by Liberal negligence.

      Because the B.C. Liberals turned a blind eye to money laundering that flowed some of those dirty dollars back into provincial coffers. Especially from expanded gambling and from higher property transfer tax revenues as house prices soared.

      In 2017, enough voters finally had had enough from the party and government that not so long ago nailed all B.C. taxpayers with its dishonest and misguided HST.

      And that’s not the half of it.

      But wait, Andrew’s behind the ball, barking out new gibberish in shotgun formation. 

      He’s ready to lead his dejected team back from the edge of oblivion and “put a spring in our step” with a wild heave that he’s betting the B.C. farm will be a “game changer”.

      Time will tell whether his reckless power play will prove him to be the genius that he has always believed himself to be, at least politically, or just the dangerous opportunist that his PST promise belies.

      Like they say, when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.

      But as someone who well knows him from working with him and his team for some 13 years, I assure you, Tom Brady, he ain’t.

      He’s the wrong kind of GOAT—arguably, the Greatest Opportunist of All Time—trying to outshine John Horgan for that title.

      And so far, his PST game ball looks like one sad puppy, a new “deflategate” in motion that’s falling flat.

      That is, if British Columbians haven’t in fact taken leave of their senses.

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at