"Wrongs are often forgiven; contempt never." -- Lord Chesterfield, 1694-1773
Opposition parties defeated the federal government by voting that the Stephen Harper Conservatives were in "contempt of Parliament" for not releasing information on the cost of fighter jets and crime legislation.
But when it comes to a key political issue in British Columbia -- the Harmonized Sales Tax -- both the Liberals and Conservatives have been in "contempt of voters."
When ex-B.C. premier Gordon Campbell announced the HST back in July 2009, the public reacted with anger at paying an extra seven per cent more on restaurant food, basic telephone and cable TV, domestic airline tickets, sports and entertainment events, home renovations and repairs and much more.
A Facebook protest group I formed quickly grew to over 130,000 members, thanks to readers of The Tyee, 24 Hours newspaper and others.
Then 557,383 valid voter signatures were gathered on Canada's first successful citizens initiative petition by Fight HST, the group created by former B.C. Premier Bill Vander Zalm, ex-Unity Party leader Chris Delaney and me.
That forced the BC Liberal government to promise a binding referendum on the HST, which will now be held by mail ballot from mid-June to July 22.
And Liberal MPs in B.C. were very happy to jump on the anti-HST bandwagon.
Vancouver South MP Ujjal Dosanjh sent a flyer out to constituents strongly denouncing the HST -- and Harper.
"Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are pushing a Harmonized Sales Tax hike on B.C. that at the end of the day will only hurt ordinary British Columbians. Everything from food to housing is going to cost more," Dosanjh wrote.
Libs forced to vote against tide
But when the HST legislation came up in Parliament, Dosanjh voted in favour of imposing the HST on B.C., not against it, because Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff ordered his MPs to support it.
"Ultimately, my argument lost out," said Dosanjh. "I still detest the tax. My constituents detest it."
Newton-North Delta Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal similarly made his opposition to the HST clear in his winter 2009 constituency report:
"And Harper has added the Harmonized Sales Tax to the burden of B.C. families already struggling to make it through this difficult economic period," he said, calling it the Harper Sales Tax.
"Now that British Columbia has been forced to accept the harmonization of the sales tax, it is time to look a little closer at how it all came together -- and the role the Harper government has played in its implementation," Dhaliwal wrote.
"In smaller communities that depend on tourism, there is considerable outrage from the restaurant and hospitality sector. Just as these businesses were starting to find their footing, they are feeling more vulnerable than ever."
But then Dhaliwal also changed his tune.
Dhaliwal told The Globe and Mail that Ignatieff's position to vote in favour of the HST was "responsible" and "visionary."
"We have to look professional... not opportunist," he said, presumably with a straight face. Not one Liberal MP voted against the HST.
Stephen Harper, raiser of taxes
But Harper and the Conservatives are hypocrites on the HST as well.
Harper made much of his cutting the Goods and Services Tax from seven per cent to six per cent and then five per cent in 2006 and 2008 -- which was the right thing to do with this regressive, punishing and unfair tax on consumers.
"Under our government, taxes are headed only one direction: down," Harper claimed on Dec. 31, 2007. "The two-point reduction will save the average working family hundreds of dollars per year on day-to-day purchases, not to mention hundreds more on a new car or thousands on a new home."
But Harper and his government voted to send taxes in only one direction -- up -- when they imposed the HST on B.C. just two years later.
Harper also trashed ex-Liberal leader Stephane Dion's proposed national carbon tax during the 2008 election, saying a new tax would hurt "the average working family."
"Canadians don't want a new tax and British Columbians don't want double carbon taxation," Harper told the media in a Richmond campaign stop on Sept. 8, 2008.
"Everybody knows -- especially in British Columbia -- that that kind of a carbon tax is not revenue neutral on the average working family," he said. (Harper declined all comment on Campbell's own carbon tax but didn't change his words.)
Harper obviously again implied strongly that his own government would never impose a new tax on British Columbians.
Flip, flop, flip, flop
But then Harper's government forced the HST on British Columbians through an act of Parliament in Dec. 2009.
Harper also paid the $1.6 billion one-time "implementation" grant that Campbell desperately wanted to reduce his massive provincial deficit.
Harper: principled or contemptible?
And his MPs weren't any better. Surrey North Conservative MP Dona Cadman said she would vote in Parliament to oppose the HST.
"I vote with the people or for the people," Cadman said in Dec. 2009.
But when the vote took place, Cadman was missing from the House of Commons.
"I wanted to show my support for my constituents, but I could not see standing up and voting outwardly no to my party," Cadman now says to explain breaking her promise.
Layton's New Dems steady foes of hated HST
Jack Layton and all NDP MPs should be held to account for their own bad decisions -- including risking a Tory majority by defeating the government when Harper was high in the polls.
But when it comes to the HST, Layton and his caucus have been completely consistent throughout -- they opposed it, they voted against it and the still want to get rid of it -- the only party which can claim that record in this election. The final vote in Parliament on Dec. 9, 2009 showed 253 in favour, 37 against and 18 abstentions.
The NDP also argues the $1.6 billion federal HST grant should not be have to be repaid if British Columbians vote in the referendum to extinguish the tax.
Regardless of your position on the HST, one clear definition of contempt is telling voters one thing and doing the exact opposite afterwards. Rather unforgiveable.