Saturday, September 19, 2009

"A Cruel Tax," Bill Vander Zalm tells Rally today at Canada Place

You would think Bill Vander Zalm was a movie star, the way people reacted to him at this afternoon’s Anti-HST rally at Canada Place in Vancouver, crowding around him afterwards to take his photo or get theirs taken with him. Now in his seventies, the former premier of British Columbia who’s leading-man-looks have faded a little but his charisma not at all, took to the stage three times to encourage the crowd to fight the new Harmonized Sales Tax. The HST being slapped on British Columbians by Premier Gordon Campbell of the Liberal party, a tax which will fuse the current Goods and Services tax with the provincial sales tax, has brought Vander Zalm out of retirement as it will result in more taxes on more things. Vander Zalm told the crowd, which he estimated to be between four and five thousand people, that the HST is “hitting a lot more places than we realized previously.”

Photo: Bill Vander Zalm at today's rally (Sorry, date stamp is incorrect.)

Despite having been head of the right of center Social Credit government, Vander Zalm did not temper his criticism of the ruling right of center Liberal party. ”The HST is a cruel tax. . . . It takes from those that are packing lunch buckets…and it’s giving to big corporations.” The government is “picking your pockets”, Vander Zalm said, emphasizing repeatedly that the money is “all going to the big corporations.” He was starting to sound like a left winger, and there were many of those at the rally too. In fact, Vander Zalm introduced Carole James, leader of the left of center New Democratic Party [”NDP”] , saying she was “doing a great job.”

James was on the same page as Vander Zalm today in criticizing the Liberals for thinking they could impose a harmonized sales tax. ”I think they really thought that they could sneak it in in the summer.” James asked people to contact Liberal Members of the Legislative Assembly and press them to oppose the HST.

Sylvia MacLeay, President of the Council of Senior Citizens Organizations, described seniors as being worried about the planned HST. ”Seniors are really upset.” They are upset about the “process”, MacLeay said, that the Liberal goverment has used in “sneaking in a new tax.” They are upset that the HST will result in “an instant rate of 12%” tax on heating fuel, hydro, some grocery items, and items that have not previously been taxed. MacLeay echoed Vander Zalm’s comments, saying the HST would result in “significant gains to big business”, but for seniors and others, “It’s all bad, there’s no up side, we’re just going to pay more money.”

It was around this point that Vander Zalm asked for money from anyone who "could spare some change or better still a bill.” The organizing effort has overhead, he explained, “signs, a sound system”, so people were being sent through the crowd carrying buckets to collect donations. ”We’re not finished today," he reminded the crowd, "We’re only just starting.”

A central strategy in fighting the HST is a "Citizen's Initiative petition". If a Citizen's Initiative collects signatures of 10% of registered voters in each riding in B.C., a referendum on the GST could be forced.

Bill Tielman, a left wing political commentator on CKNW radio, spoke directly to Premier Campbell from the stage at the rally. “I know you’ll be watching this on television tonight. I know you can’t resist. I have a message for Gordon Campbell. This is what democracy looks like in British Columbia.”