A tax revolt is brewing in British Columbia but not the kind of tax revolt you are thinking, where the population decides they are not willing to pay taxes to a government that doesn’t represent them. No, this is a tax revolt of a different type: a tax revolt of the big corporations. Already three companies in the forest industry are refusing to pay millions in property taxes. These corporations leech their profits from the resources and hard work of the people of this province and now they have decided they aren’t even willing to pay their share to maintain the infrastructure necessary to do that. These parasites have shown in the past that they have no respect for the basic living standards of their own workers, let alone of the wider community. Now with their economic system in crisis, they are demanding even more. By all indications, this is only the beginning.
Several municipalities are now facing this problem. Catalyst Paper is refusing to pay $17 million of outstanding taxes in North Cowichan, Port Alberni, Campbell River, and Powell River. This will be a terrible burden on these small resource-industry towns. Campbell River is also faced with TimberWest Forest’s refusal to pay its $1 million tax bill. In Castlegar, the Zellstoff Celgar pulp mill owes $3.6 million and is refusing to pay up.
John Allan, president of the BC Council of Forest Industries, is expecting this tax revolt to grow. “It’s probably going to spread to some degree,” he said “…It’s a recognition that municipal budgets could be tighter”. This is the crux of the matter. These companies are really demanding cuts to municipal budgets. They disagree with the spending priorities of the elected city councils and have decided that they will force them to implement cuts by refusing to pay their taxes. This is typical of the ruling class. They respect democracy as long as they get what they want, but when people that don’t directly represent their interests are elected, democracy is put on hold and they resort to sabotage. If the recession wasn’t enough to make one question whether these people are fit to run our economy, this certainly should be!
Most of these towns exist solely for the extraction of resources. The services provided by these cities are necessary in order for these companies to continue their operations. In reality, paying for adequate schools, roads, and other services is part of the cost of mining, milling, and generally doing business outside of major urban centers. But that doesn’t stop Zellstoff Celgar mill manager Alan Hitzroth from complaining, “We get very few services. The only services that I can really think of is that we get our potable water chlorinated. Water, by the way, which we provide to the town. We provide the town with their water so we provide probably more of a service to the town then the town provides to us. They, in turn though, chlorinate the water that we drink at the mill. The only other thing they do is plow the road out to the mill.”
But Mr. Hitzroth is wrong. The truth is, the town allows the company to use the water from their supply to operate the mill, not the other way around. This mindset is again typical of the ruling class. As far as they are concerned, the water belongs to them and they are nice enough to allow the people of Castlegar to drink their water. What generous souls! Mr. Hitzroth seems to miss the fact that all of the services provided by the city benefit the company. Who paves the roads that are used to transport the product to and from their mill? Who operates the transit system that brings employees to and from work? Who educates the children of the workers at the pulp mill? Who operates the Ootischenia Landfill where the garbage for the mill is deposited? Who will respond to the call if their mill catches fire? Who fights the forest fires that threaten the region (and the mill’s lumber supply) every summer? It appears that the owners of the Zellstoff Celgar mill are so short sighted, they can’t see past their own bank accounts.
It would seem a remarkable coincidence that three big companies operating in four different cities would all come to the same conclusion at the same time. The timing of this tax revolt (shortly after the provincial election) and the words of the president of the BC Council of Forest Industries seem to indicate that this is a coordinated attack. They have chosen a politically opportune time to launch an attack on municipal spending. If they get their way, what is to stop all of the other resource industry companies from doing the same? It is clear that this is not just an attack on municipalities, but also on public sector workers and the entire population which uses these services.
This situation is intolerable. If any common home owner refused to pay their property tax, we know what would happen; the city would step in and foreclose on the property. They would auction off the house and pay the taxes with the money. But these big companies know that these towns cannot survive without their mills and have gambled that auctioning the mills off is not an option. They are right, but foreclosure is an option. These mills should be immediately expropriated and taken into public ownership. This kind of economic sabotage cannot be allowed to continue. The operation of the mills should be placed under the control of the workers. They after all are the people who live in these towns. They are the people who do the work and earn every cent that these companies make. A worker who isn’t pulling his weight at a company would normally be fired. The bosses haven’t been pulling their weight for a long time. It is time that we fire the bosses!