Premier admits faceplant in communicating HST 

Critics say Gordon Campbell ducked minimum wage in UBCM address

Premier Gordon Campbell says he and his Finance Minister performed a "death spiral" when they announced the Harmonized Sales Tax, issuing perhaps his most powerful mea culpa yet for the way he introduced the tax.

He said it during an hour-long address to the annual convention of the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) at the Whistler Conference Centre last week.

Campbell drew an analogy with figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who won gold medals in pairs ice dancing at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

"I think it's fair to say that my skating partner, Colin Hansen and I, could have maybe used a little more practice and were not Moir and Virtue," Campbell said. "We got out there, we started skating, rushed out and threw the HST up in the air and promptly fell on our faces.

"We soldiered on with the program, some say the only thing we really mastered was the death spiral. A few disputed the degree of difficulty of what we attempted, but we did fail to convey its technical merits. And let's be honest, we bombed on artistic expression."

The provincial government announced the HST on July 1, 2009, shortly after the last provincial election. The tax harmonizes the five per cent federal GST with the seven per cent rate of the PST.

The tax has been met with a mixed reception in the Sea to Sky region. Whistler Blackcomb CEO Dave Brownlie has said the HST is "simply bad for tourism," while others such as the Grocery Store's Sue Adams feel there will not be much impact for their business.

Campbell didn't announce a reduction in the HST, as former premier Bill Vander Zalm had predicted, but instead addressed a long series of criticisms that have been leveled at him - among other things, that he lied to British Columbians about the HST before the 2009 election.

"A lot of people don't think we told them the truth before the election," he said. "I can tell you this. Not once did I have a discussion about moving to an HST prior to the election.

"Now I know there's a lot of people that are never going to believe that. The only way I can convince some people I was telling the truth is by telling them a lie."

The speech gave no comfort to Kelly Carlson, a Horseshoe Bay resident who's organizing a recall campaign against Liberal MLA Joan McIntyre in West Vancouver-Sea to Sky.

"It think it would have come off a little bit better if he had taken it a little more seriously," she said. "I think him making it sound like a comedy routine was an embarrassment to the government.

"It was inappropriate because he was making fun of a situation where people are suffering. People were already suffering and now people are suffering more."

Carlson has thus far signed up 40 volunteers to try and recall McIntyre. She has a goal of getting 150 people to help her. She noted it only took five people to garner 7,000 signatures for the Fight HST petition.

Prior to Campbell's address there was speculation he would announce an increase in the minimum wage. Labour Minister Murray Coell said in a panel discussion on Wednesday that the province was looking at reviewing it to see if it could be raised. He later called a news conference saying the minimum wage is under regular review at the provincial level.

Campbell did say that his government has a goal to give British Columbians "the best quality of life for our families and children," and give them the paycheques they need, but he didn't mention the minimum wage in his speech.

That was disappointing for Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, who wants to see the minimum wage raised to $10 and has won support from the opposition New Democratic Party in pursuit of his goal.

"I was excited when I heard him say British Columbians are working longer and harder and feel like they're falling farther behind," Sinclair said. "I went yes, Premier, you're absolutely right, and then I thought he'd say, in respect of that, I've decided to do something after 10 years which is raise the minimum wage, so that some of those people might get further ahead.

"Of course he ignored the issue completely and we're stuck back where we were, with a government that refuses to acknowledge that we have a serious problem for our low-paid workers and won't solve the problem."

B.C.'s minimum wage is $8 an hour, with a training wage of $6 an hour for new employees, the lowest starting wage in Canada.




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