Ever since the New Democrats’ solid by-election win in New Westminster-Coquitlam on Monday, there have been increased suggestions from both the party and pundits that the HST issue could be used as a national wedge issue, especially since the Conservatives support the HST wholeheartedly and the Liberals generally support the HST but don’t want it implemented at this moment.
However, I question the possible effectiveness of the HST as a New Democrat national wedge issue.
In New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia, the HST has been a fait accompli since 1996, and it doesn’t seem that it is going to go away soon (even in New Democrat-run Nova Scotia, where the government has only made adjustments in regards to which products are charged the provincial portion of the tax.)
Newfoundland, PEI, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan do not have an HST.
Quebec has a provincial Value-Added Tax (as opposed to the other PSTs, which are Cascading Taxes) and has no interest in giving up control to Ottawa. Alberta doesn’t have a PST.
That eliminates the HST as an issue except for Ontario and British Columbia, which admittedly have a large chunk of Canada’s voters.
But even in Ontario, I have doubts that the HST as an issue that can swing votes to the federal New Democrats. Why? Simply have a look at the results of the “first ‘real’ election on the HST,” the St. Paul’s by-election in September. Despite the fact that the provincial Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats used the by-election as referendum against the HST and the HST-supporting provincial Liberals, the Liberals won St. Paul’s quite handily (47.6% to the PC’s 28.3% and the NDP’s 16.9%.) Furthermore, those results were very similar to the 2007 general election, placing further doubt on the HST as a vote mover.
Only in BC does the HST look like it could be an effective wedge issue for the New Democrats, and that’s probably a result as to how the BC Liberals introduced the tax, after an election in which that denied that the HST was under consideration (it was.) Even then, questions arise. After all, the New Westminster-Coquitlam by-election was fought between a strong New Democratic candidate and a lackluster Conservative candidate.
So, is the HST the wedge issue that will give the New Democrats more victories in the next election? I don’t think so. I think that the issue could have a role in getting some voters to have a closer look at us, but I don’t think the HST is the game changer that some are trying to say it is.