May 3, 1996 Halifax Herald

If politicians protect system, who protects people?

Why do so many Canadians so passionately hate the GST? The obvious, and probably only, answer is that they are sick to death of being overtaxed and want something done to relieve the burden. A factor aggravating the situation is that the burden is unevenly spread, it isn't causing much pain to those in high-income brackets, like politicians; its falling on the shoulders of the majority, people who can least afford it - the 10 to 30 thousand dollar range.

This disquiet among them about high taxes isn't something new; it’s been festering for a long time. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulrony, when trying to pay for the past excesses of his and Trudeau's governments by a new tax, only brought the resentment out in the open. Therefore, slightly reducing the levy, if indeed governments are, isn't going to mollify the majority of these people; they want the G.S.T. dead, and no replacements. Most are saying to governments, who don't seem to be listening: “put away the Cadillacs and stop mortgaging the future to pay for them, and bring out the no-frill, affordable Chevrolets.”

Speaking of our high taxes, the most telling comment I've ever heard made about them was made by an American, who was ahead of me in paying his tab in a Halifax restaurant last summer. When he was presented with his bill, and he saw the extent of the taxes added to it, he exclaimed: "Why, in the name of God, do you people put up with this?" When I told him that we don't have any say over what our governments do after an election, he was dumbstruck.

Most Canadians don't think, in this day and age, that increasing taxes without a dire national emergency as justification, is acceptable. But how do you stop governments from increasing taxes when the political system provides no leverage for the people to exert their will? You can't! Although most of the people want maturity in government, an end to its excesses and waste, and accountability on a daily basis instead of on election day, the present system does not offer a solution! This is precisely why the professional politicians protect the system so religiously.

For instance, the case of John Nunziata being kicked out of the Liberal caucus exemplifies how powerless we are, and how politicians react to any threat to their absolute control on power. He has been publicly castigated for doing what democratic ideals dictate an elected person do - follow the wishes of the people. Contrast Nunziata's actions with that of Deputy Prime Minister Shelia Copps.

Ms. Copps, before and after the election, promised emphatically to resign if the tax wasn't abolished. Her noble words: "I've already said personally and very directly that if the G.S.T. is not abolished, I'll resign...I think you've got to be accountable for the things you're going to do, and you have to deliver on it." But it was only on Wednesday of this week that she belatedly kept that promise - and then only because great political and public pressure forced her to. Prior to that, she was making excuses for not keeping her word. Is getting elected by promising one thing, then after being elected, doing the opposite, now considered right in this country? If so, were in deep trouble.

Here is something which has come back to haunt me since the announcement was made that the G.S.T. will be recycled, instead of abolished. Prior to the last election, I told friends that I would be voting Liberal because of the major Liberal promise to abolish the G.S.T., I encouraged them to do the same. One responded: "The Liberals are no different than the Tories. All Chretien and his henchmen crave is power, and they will do anything to get it! But in the faint hope that there may be a chance that they will honour their promise, I'll also vote for them; but in the end, I know they won't."

How prophetic his words were; the promise has now been defaulted on, without apology. We gave the Liberals, by voting them in, a mandate to abolish the G.S.T.; nothing less is acceptable.

It’s been reported that when discussing with caucus what punishment to dish out to Nunziata, the PM said: "Nunziata is a friend, but his first duty is to protect the Liberal party." Don't politicians have even an iota of duty to protect and follow the wishes of the people, under this obsolete political system we have in Canada? From the actions of Jean Chrétien’s government and its predecessors, in punishing MPS who try to follow the wishes of the electors, one would think not.

Here is something for the movers and shakers of the traditional parties to think about in designing their future agendas. I would be willing to bet, since the federal and provincial governments made their G.S.T. intent known on April 26th, that they have shoved many electors towards viewing the Reform Party with a less-jaundiced eye. It, of course, has its extremists and nut cases, but so do all the rest. And, most important to many voters, this will be a tantalizing item; they don't have a string of broken promises behind them.

There is, of course, a way for the Liberals to redeem the situation. The Prime Minister and Premier can call elections to try to get a mandate for doing what their now doing without one!

Daniel N. Paul


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