Fighting Back

By Phillip Woolgar

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As swarms of canvassers assemble throughout British Columbia to battle the provincial government's harmonized sales tax (HST), Victoria resident at Marrion Village seniors' housing, Jean Kanty, is tirelessly working as a captain of an Oak Bay team.

She is responsible for nearly a dozen volunteers who have been combing the streets of Victoria since April 8, searching for eligible voters who are willing to strike their claim against the HST.

According to Jean, finding the signatures of 10 per cent of eligible voters in B.C. (or 300,000 people) – the rate needed to call the Liberal-led increase to a referendum – is a breeze.

“I've only had a handful of people refuse to sign,” she says, noting she's not an official spokesperson for the petition.

Not many of the refusals to sign come from seniors. Jean says the increase of taxes to non-prescription drugs and to other regular products and services are too much for some to bear, and this is a regular topic at many of the seniors' housing complexes that she canvasses.

On July 1, the HST will combine the seven per cent provincial sales tax with the five per cent federal Goods and Services Tax, creating a 12 per cent HST and increasing costs on purchases that were previously exempt from the provincial levy.

The B.C. government aims to download $1.9 billion in taxes from big business to residents, in an attempt to lower corporate costs and to increase each company's hiring ability.

“The seniors' homes have been very anxious to see me,” Jean notes. “I have gone through several in the area because these people are going to be hard-hit.

“People in homes will be charged more for their food. Their rent won't be, but the rest of it will get a 12 per cent tax and that's what's making people so angry.”

By May, Jean's team collected approximately 600 signatures, and, province-wide, nearly 150,000 are reported to have been collected.

With a map in hand, she designates an area near Oak Bay to each member of her team. Then, with pen and paper ready, each volunteer collects signatures by walking door-to-door or by stationing kiosks at various stores.

“We're not even aiming for 10 per cent; we're aiming for 15 or 20 per cent of eligible voters,” she went on enthusiastically. “People are literally lining up to sign the petition.”

Jean, who has been retired for nine years, wasn't very politically active throughout her life, but when she heard how her friends and family could be made to suffer, she couldn't resist fighting back.

“I felt it was very unfair. They're downloading the tax from big business with the thought that they are going to make jobs, because they are going to save money,” she explains. “I thought 'Well, Reaganomics didn't work in the United States, so I don't know why they think it would work here. It's going to hurt me and anyone else on a fixed income.”

So after hearing former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm's commitment to stop the long-term implementation of the HST, Jean searched the Internet for a way to sign the petition.

After further investigation, she was recruited to lead her own team.

It should be noted that four of the 12 members on her team are senior citizens who feel so passionately about ousting the tax that they sometimes take on physical strain to seek out the signatures. They walk through neighbourhoods, but Jean notes that sometimes such dedication isn't required because often the volunteers canvass their own complexes; other times a kiosk at some main events throughout Victoria is enough to attract crowds of people ready to sign.

This is welcome relief to Jean and her crew, as teams throughout B.C. are required to meet their quota by July 5.

But while the 15 per cent goal for signatures in the Oak Bay riding is considered nearly secured, a commitment of at least 10 per cent in all of the province's 85 ridings is needed.

Brad Shade, who is responsible for organizing the campaign throughout Vancouver Island and who reports directly to Vander Zalm, says at least a dozen ridings province-wide already had 10 per cent of signatures by the beginning of May. Of those, an estimated four are from Greater Victoria.

“We're absolutely confident that we will get these numbers,” he says. “There are even several areas that have vastly exceeded the numbers we need.”

He is surprised that the greatest support so far is coming from ridings in the Cariboo north region, and in the City of Kelowna. Each of those areas has already exceeded the 15 per cent goal by approximately one-and-a-half times.

“It seems to have morphed into a general dissent against the Liberal government,” Brad adds.

He went on to say the brunt of the opposition came from seniors and from single-parent families, due to the general increase in costs to day-to-day living, but now, people feel betrayed by a government that they feel kept the HST a secret until after last year's provincial election.



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