A tip of the cap to the GST

CHARLES GORDON March 25 1991

A tip of the cap to the GST

CHARLES GORDON March 25 1991

A tip of the cap to the GST



As this is being written, it is a bright, clear late-winter day. In the newspaper, the Persian Gulf news begins on page 1, but below the fold. The top story is about land claims in British Columbia. There is nothing about the GST until page 4, and even that’s just a little human-interest yam. Despite the direst of predictions, life is returning to normal.

People are beginning to ponder some of the other questions of life—such as why all Canadian males between 13 and 20 wear baseball caps all the time throughout the winter.

If you are surprised by your thoughts turning to such matters as how the ears of those young Canadian males stay warm, you shouldn’t be. Life has a way of returning to normal, especially in Canada, a place where the people don’t let anything distract them from their accustomed patterns for long.

The war has more or less stopped being news. Even though Canadians were in the Gulf and did everything that was asked of them, it wasn’t our war, and we know it. The Americans made the decisions, took the big risks, and we just sort of hoped for the best. The aftermath of the war belongs to the Americans too. Americans can keep an orgy of self-congratulation going for months, with story after story, news clip after news clip celebrating the glorious welcomes of returning heroes. We are more inclined to skip the yellow ribbons and let the Forces come home less conspicuously. We are more inclined, in other words, to a swift return to normal. We are more inclined to let the war stop being news.

In the overall scheme of things, it wasn’t omwar and it wasn’t our story. But the Goods and Services Tax is our story, and certainly is our tax. While the attention given to the war may fade, it is more surprising that the GST finds itself in obscurity. But it seems to be, on this bright late-winter day.

Perhaps we were distracted by the war.

Charles Gordon is a columnist with The Ottawa Citizen.

With the end of the world now a safe distance away, it is safe to ponder other matters

Perhaps we were—and are—distracted by the recession. Whatever the explanation, it is a simple fact that the GST has not dominated our lives the way it was predicted it would.

You remember the predictions. Brian Mulroney would never recover from the imposition of the GST. Every time a Canadian bought something, the Canadian would be conscious of an extra seven per cent. Every time the Canadian was conscious of the extra seven per cent, the Canadian would curse the Conservative government. The government had doomed itself by passing the tax.

For a time, the predictions appeared to be right on the mark. In every store, with every transaction during the first couple of weeks of the tax, words were exchanged, the customer muttering about the GST, the clerk expressing sympathy. Or so it seemed, for a time.

But something happened, the thing that always happens. People got used to the GST. They learned to live with it, if not to like it. The fact that people are used to it does not make it any better a tax than it was in the beginning. It is just that the end of the world was predicted and the end of the world didn’t happen.

With the end of the world now apparently a safe distance away, it is safe to ponder other

matters. Who is it who decides that everybody should wear baseball caps? Did all the boys suddenly and spontaneously begin wearing them? Was there some movie in which baseball caps were worn that changed the style of every high-school boy in the country? And why did we miss it?

It is important that we think about such things in order to save our sanity. If we think about the GST all the time, we will go surely nuts. Most people understand that. Commuters understand that. Forced each day to drive for an hour or more on a clogged expressway into a city that has no parking spaces, they can either curse that fact each day—in which case they will go nuts—or they can get used to it. It is still a horrible drive, they would still prefer to be doing something else, but they accept what they are doing and save their anger for something that matters.

Instead of wondering why they get in the car each day, they can just do it, uncomplainingly, and wonder instead about the hierarchy of baseball caps worn in high school. Is a baseball cap with the insignia of a baseball team better than a baseball cap with the insignia of a football team or the insignia of a beer or a truck? Is a hockey baseball cap better than a basketball baseball cap?

It is possible to live this way with the GST— paying it more or less uncomplainingly, taking time out to ponder the weather or the pennant race, and still, if you must, remembering to vote against the government at the earliest opportunity. Lightening up, in other words, need not mean ignoring the important issues, only avoiding being obsessed by them.

Of course, you can be obsessed by the baseball-cap question too. When was it that baseball caps stopped being worn backwards? How do these young fellows avoid the common affliction known as hat head? Or is that why they keep their hats on all the time?

Do they, in fact, keep their hats on all the time?

Such questions, or questions of similar depth, are good ones to ask yourself when thoughts of the GST or the deterioration of our national unity threaten to overcome you.

Signs that a national lightening up is possible are gradually emerging. If you listen long enough, you can hear people beginning to talk about what happens after the recession is over. Cracks are even beginning to appear in our wall of gloom, the one that separates those who want to save Canada and those who want to see it end, those who think Canada can survive and those who are certain it won’t. In French Canada, federalists are beginning to appear; in English Canada, optimists.

Although nations are not like people, it is still possible that the entire country needs a breather, that the intensity and duration of the unity debate have worn us out. A return to normalcy may be in order, if we can only figure out what normalcy is. Meanwhile, spring is on the way, the weather is warming up and the baseball caps may come off, now that it’s baseball season.

Or perhaps they won’t. It’s worth thinking about anyway.