Sensible BC campaign a harder sell than anti-HST

"...once again the people of B.C. will get a chance to voice their opinion. And that’s the way it should be, regardless of the topic."

Pundits often say the political scene in B.C. is reminiscent of the wild west. A region where the citizens dictate the rules of the land and are quick to rise up against politics and politicians that undermine the greater good.

We saw that attitude and fervour take down many politicians and policies.  From fallen premiers to repealed taxes, the voice of the people tends to resonate louder in B.C. than in other parts of the country.

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that many of us have a vested interest in all things B.C., whether it’s protecting our hard-earned money, the pristine environment we enjoy, or the sanctity of an elected office we bestow upon politicians. People in this province are more apt to voice an opinion than sit by quietly.

Of course that flies in the face of the numbers released for voter turnout in the recent election but I believe B.C. people are passionate about many things and if it grabs their attention then the snowball begins to roll.

And so on the eve of the Sensible BC campaign, set to kick off on Monday, one wonders what the response will be.

We ask that same question in this week’s Trail Times web poll so it will be interesting to see the level of response and the general thought of its success.

There has been a constant decriminalization drum beat for some time in the province. Add to that the high-profile incarceration of Mark Emery over seeds, the voter referendum supporting legalization by our American neighbours in Washington, the constant and expanding gang warfare bubbling from the Lower Mainland and the chorus of prominent former politicians and law enforcement people suggesting a new tact in the War on Drugs needs to be taken.

With all those things taken into account, one wonders how the Sensible BC campaign could possibly fail. But it won’t be as easy as it might appear to its ardent supporters.

Residents of this province are still basking in the glow of the successful repeal-the-Harmonized Sales Tax campaign, which basically told the government where to file its new tax.

However, that was an easy one.

When it comes to taxes, most citizens are on the same page. That made selling the anti-HST campaign rather easy.

However, the Sensible BC campaign’s only similarity to the repeal-HST campaign is that the ground rules are the same – get 10 per cent of the registered voters in each riding, roughly a total of 400,000 names across the province, to sign the petition from Sept. 9 to Dec. 5 and then present it to the government.

The anti-HST campaign brought out two opposing views. The government bought millions of dollars in advertising to pitch its side of the issue and plead with British Columbians to keep the harmonized tax in place. Meanwhile, the consumer-driven opponents also had a hefty bankroll and had enough boots on the ground to motivate and mobilize people.

Which begs the question, “How will the Sensible BC campaign play out?”

So far there hasn’t been any push from the either side of the issue. I’m surprised we haven’t seen government officials, at the provincial or federal level, begin a media campaign to warn of the dangers of passing this proposal. And that may still come.

The anti-HST campaign drew volunteers like flies to a picnic but I doubt that will be the same for the Sensible BC campaign.

“We have people who are worried that if they volunteer, they might get in trouble with their employer, they’ll be judged in their community if people think they’re a marijuana user or something like that. That’s something we have to struggle with,” leading proponent Dana Larsen told reporters last month.

That assumption can be very real despite the fact that former police chiefs, former attorney generals, former mayors and even some current politicians, the most notable lately has been federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, have come out in support of decriminalization.

Those against it will paint a picture of a generation of stoners that will emerge from the loosening of marijuana laws. How pot becomes a gateway to harder drugs. However, I doubt they’ll point to the repealing of prohibition or legalization of gambling as fostering social ills.

On the other side, those in favour of the campaign will point to the waste of police resources, the clogged court system and archaic laws that make criminals out of recreational users. They might avoid talk of addiction and its consequences.

It’s an interesting dynamic that might not be played out in the media at all.

The Pattison Outdoor Advertising, B.C.’s largest billboard company, refused to sell billboard space to the campaign. However, after a fierce public backlash the company relented.

I wonder whether the topic will be too hot for many politicians and companies to take sides. That’s to be expected from that segment of society.

So that puts the question in the rightful hands of the citizens. Whether you’re for it or against it, it appears once again the people of B.C. will get a chance to voice their opinion.

And that’s the way it should be, regardless of the topic.

Guy Bertrand is the managing editor of the Trail Times