|Ida Chong & her right-hand man Gordon Campbell|
She says it isn't about the HST. And a few other mistaken notions.
Bill Tieleman's 24 hours / TheTyee column
Tuesday January 11, 2011
By Bill Tieleman
"We're going to have to work really hard to remind people what recall is all about, and let them know that it's not about fighting the HST."
- B.C. Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong
Does Ida Chong really think that recalling her isn't about fighting the Harmonized Sales Tax that she voted for and defended in the B.C. legislature?
Ida-know why she said that -- because recall is completely driven by the HST.
But Chong -- MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head in Victoria -- is desperately pretending the Fight HST recall campaign isn't about the hated tax or her role in passing it.
Chong also says recall was only designed to get rid of "bad" MLAs -- not her!
"Recall legislation was implemented so that the public had recourse against an MLA who broke the law or committed serious ethical violations," Chong wrote in the Georgia Straight last year. "It was designed to remove an MLA who has committed wrongdoing, and was never intended to be used as retribution against MLAs for an unpopular vote in the legislature."
Chong adds that the fate of the HST will be decided by a provincial referendum on Sept. 24, not by recall, which she claims "is being used to refight the last election by creating a by-election."
Unfortunately for Chong, she is wrong on all counts.
Fortunately for the strong majority of British Columbians who oppose the HST, the voters of Oak Bay-Gordon Head can straighten Chong out by signing the recall petition to remove her from office. And over 6,000 already have.
Here are the facts, as opposed to Chong's frantic spin.
First, here's the best reason I can find to support recall:
"If we can turn to the recall legislation, I think it's obvious why people demand this legislation. They are tired of politicians who make promises before an election and do the exact opposite after," one powerful speaker told the B.C. legislature on July 6, 1994.
"The fact of the matter is that people will not abuse this right. They will simply require that all of us as elected politicians live according to the pledges we make to them."
Right on! Who was it? Why the then-opposition leader -- a guy named Gordon Campbell said all that.
Second, the Dec. 6 recall campaign statement from proponent Michael Hayes and approved by Elections BC is crystal clear.
It starts with: "I am proposing the recall of Oak Bay-Gordon Head member of the legislative assembly, Ida Chong, because she supported the deceptive introduction of the Harmonized Sales Tax and refuses to represent the clear wishes of her constituents, in the legislative assembly."
Third, there are absolutely no restrictions on reasons for recall of an MLA -- the legislation makes no mention of breaking the law or misconduct.
Instead it simply states that the proponent submit "a statement, not exceeding 200 words, setting out why, in the opinion of the applicant, the recall of the member is warranted."
Fourth, the referendum Chong refers to is non-binding, and if successful would only force the citizens initiative petition legislation to kill the HST to be introduced in the legislature -- not to be passed.
Premier Campbell promised last year that the referendum would actually be binding and would only require a simple majority of the votes of those who participate to extinguish the HST -- but Campbell has resigned and won't be premier after next month.
There is no guarantee that Campbell's successor will honour his word -- and nothing he promised is in legislation.
A record of broken promises
What's more, Campbell and his BC Liberal government have a "promising" history -- of making and then breaking their pledges.
Campbell promised not to impose an HST in the first place, not to sell BC Rail, not to rip up hospital workers' contracts and not to have a budget deficit six times larger than he said it was before the 2009 election.
And just before he was forced to resign, Campbell unwisely and in desperation announced a 15 per cent income tax cut in a province-wide TV address -- and then dropped it soon afterwards.
So when it comes to trusting Campbell, it's not a very promising picture.
No, what forced Campbell and crew to pledge a binding, fair referendum was the political pressure created by the Fight HST citizens initiative that was signed by 705,643 British Columbians.
That's why pursuing recall campaigns to keep the pressure on the BC Liberals to honour their promise is essential.
It's a simple question -- can you trust them to keep their word when they have broken it so many times? Recall will help them be promise-keepers -- or else.
And an early fair and binding HST referendum vote would end the need for recall.
Big dinner bills
Some people think Chong is guilty of political misconduct for more than just the HST -- her charging nearly $6,000 to taxpayers in one year for meals when she lives just minutes from the legislature enraged many constituents.
Don't forget that Chong's $6,000 for meals is double the amount a single person on income assistance gets for everything but rent in a year.
Chong wants voters to think she isn't responsible for the HST. Tell that to former BC Liberal cabinet minister Blair Lekstrom, who resigned from both cabinet and caucus because he respected the views of his constituents and now sits as an independent.
But make no mistake, recall is a very tough test for Fight HST, which I helped create in 2009 with former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm and former Unity Party leader Chris Delaney and still support, to bring together voters of every persuasion to stop the HST.
Recall requires the support of 40 per cent of the riding's voters in the 2009 provincial election -- that means 15,368 validated signatures.
It's extremely challenging, especially with difficult rules and a lack of access to voters who live in apartment buildings.
Most ridiculous is the recall rule that to force a by-election -- which Ida Chong can still be a candidate in -- requires the signatures of nearly 4,000 more voters than the 11,877 who actually cast a ballot for Chong in 2009.
Ironically, if an amendment proposed by then-opposition leader Gordon Campbell in 1994 had been accepted, recall would be much easier:
"The issue that has been referred to in section 23(b) is indeed an important component of the recall legislation that's before us, and I would like to put before the committee an amendment to section 23 as follows: '(b) the petition must be signed by at least the same number of voters as the number of votes the member received in the last election, plus one,'" Campbell said in the legislature on July 7, 1994.
Then again, almost everything Campbell said then about recall is now highly embarrassing.
"When you read the title of the bill, there is great hope: recall and initiative legislation, it points out. But the fact is that this is not recall and initiative legislation; it is legislation that is meant not to work," Campbell said.
And even though he was right, even though he promised to make it easier to undertake recall, Campbell did nothing in nine years in office because he feared a situation like that facing his government MLAs today.
But hundreds of volunteers and thousands of voters are determined to give it their best try under the existing rules -- and they deserve our thanks.
People who want to join up and try to make this recall campaign a success can attend a town hall meeting with Vander Zalm and Delaney on Friday, Jan. 14 at the Gordon Head Rec Centre or go to recallidachong.ca
Two more reasons to recall
And even if Chong was somehow right -- that recall isn't all about the HST or her role in it -- there are dozens of other reasons to sign a recall petition against her or any other BC Liberal MLA.
Here are two really good ones: how about because Chong and company refuse to hold a public inquiry into the B.C. legislature raid case that suddenly ended with a guilty plea bargain by former government aides David Basi and Bob Virk after just two witnesses testified?
(If you agree a public inquiry is needed, join my new Facebook page -- Basi-Virk Public Inquiry.)
Or maybe Chong and the BC Liberals should face recall because our province has had the worst child poverty rate in Canada for seven straight years?
Sorry, Ida, but whether recall is about the HST or your government's record, it still makes sense.