HST vs. same-sex marriage
A special session of the Liberal caucus is under way this morning so that MPs can figure out how to vote on the harmonized sales tax legislation. The basic political calculation will be: who's going to pay the price for this -- the federal government, which proposed the "modernization" move in its last budget, or the provincial governments, who will have to collect the tax? In other words, do voters punish politcians for the theory, or the practice?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is clearly hoping that it's the latter -- the absolute opposite of what happened earlier this decade with same-sex marriage.
In 2003, thanks to provincial court rulings, Ontario and British Columbia started to solemnize gay marriages. The story was big news, featuring large stories and photos of the happy ceremonies. In 2004, another four provinces and a territory (Yukon) followed suit, so that by the end of that year, same-sex marriage was possible for roughly 90 per cent of the population. Yet no provincial premier or government seemed to experience any blowback or controversy.
But the mere suggestion of federal legislation during these same years was incredibly controversial, even though the bill proposed by Jean Chretien and then Paul Martin was just to make possible in theory what was already happening in practice. In short, the federal government was getting blamed for the idea, even though the provinces were actually carrying out the same-sex marriages. Strange. The Civil Marriage Act was eventually passed in mid-2005.
Now, with the HST, we see the reverse situation. The tax has been a big flashpoint for anger in Ontario and B.C. (see yesterday's shenanigans at Queen's Park for how hot it's become). Yet it hasn't been until the last week that the tax has even registered on the radar in Ottawa, despite the best efforts of the NDP to make it a point of contention.
Somewhere, there's a lesson here for political-issue management. I'm just not sure what it is. Given that the federal Liberals were bedevilled by same-sex marriage and now the HST, it may simply be that issue management is not their great strength.