HST question proves harder than the answer

“Are you in favour of extinguishing the HST and reinstating the PST in conjunction with the GST?”

Does it really have to be this difficult?

Obviously I’m not cut out for a government job. If it was up to me to write out the HST referendum question I think it would be pretty simple.

Do you want to keep the HST? Yes or no.

While the crafter of the question wasn’t the government of the day, the query on the fate of the controversial tax still reeks of political double-talk.

Here’s how they pitch the HST question.

“Are you in favour of extinguishing the HST and reinstating the PST in conjunction with the GST?”


Extinguishing? Are we expected to put out this fire ignited by the Liberal government?

How about removing or eliminating or abolishing the tax? Extinguishing? Really?

So “Yes,” means “No,” to the tax and “No,” means, “Yes” to the tax.

Confused yet?

If you want find out if your five-year-old ate the candy on the table do you ask, “Did you not take the candy you weren’t supposed to eat?” Or do you ask, “Did you take the candy?”

Simple as that.

Like I explained to my daughter, this sounds more like the famous Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” baseball routine.

“Who?” she said, not having a clue what I was talking about.

“Exactly,” I replied.

“What?” she countered, like the perfect straight man version of Costello.

“He’s on second base,” I said, relishing that she was playing along, or so I thought.

She rolled her eyes, like teenagers do, and walked away muttering something like “I don’t know!”

“He’s on third,” I laughed to nobody but my aging self.

Which brings me back to my point of the HST question. While most of us will get it, like the Abbott and Costello banter, there will be some that will be confused enough to throw a wrench into the true will of the people.

The sad reality is nothing is ever simple when it comes to dealing with the government on provincial and national scales.

Just listen to question period in the House of Commons. After five minutes you’ll understand why they don’t call it answer period.

It’s not the first time a government has tried to screw up the voting public with a backwards-sounding question.

Remember the 1995 Quebec referendum?

Instead of making it a simple question on whether Quebecers still wanted to be part of Canada or not, here’s how they asked citizen if they want to separate from the rest of the country.

“Do you agree that Québec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Quebec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?”

Pardonez moi?

The “No,” side pulled this one out by a narrow margin, although one has to wonder if the question was more straightforward do you get a more straightforward result. Notwithstanding with meddling and sponsorship-scandal plagued Jean Chrétien crew.

The same narrow result might be in the cards for the HST question.

Instead of a clear-cut answer there might be enough head scratching and confusion to make it a closer result than it should be on either side.

The ruling government might see it as just enough confusion to throw up some type of roadblock to avert elimination.

On the other side, the opposition party might see the results as a split in public opinion and wedge issue for the next election and overlook more pressing social issues.

But that’s how politics work on the grand stage. Keep things wordy and full of needless babble and the public might question what they’re doing but might also be hesitant because they’re not sure what they’re questioning.

And by the time they figure out the damage is done. Just ask G20 protesters.

Politicians are used to talking for an hour without getting to the point. They’re used to convoluted answers to stump reporters and the public. So I guess this is another opportunity.

Sadly history repeats itself.

Or as a HST question writer would put it, “Do you think the past becomes the present or does it stay in the past and become history instead of becoming the present, and therefore not the future?”


Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Times.