Communicating bad medicine: Making the argument for the adoption of the harmonized sales tax in Ontario, Canada
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In this dissertation, I explore the question of how a democratically elected government sells an unpopular concept, such as a new tax, to citizens. I interviewed politicians, political advisors, civil servants, and business leaders responsible for the introduction of Ontario’s value-added tax in 2010 (known as the Harmonized Sales Tax or HST) and examined print and media artifacts to answer this question. This topic is important to political analysts and rhetoricians who need to introduce tax initiatives to create necessary revenue streams for their governments. As we have seen in the past, unpopular tax initiatives can be reversed (as occurred in British Columbia’s 2011 referendum on the HST) and governments can be defeated (as happened to the Manitoba government in a vote of non-confidence in 1988). An analysis of lessons learned from Ontario’s successful experience with the HST in 2010 is useful information for governments for any future tax or controversial policy communication. My research is the first of its kind to examine the rhetoric used to introduce the HST in Ontario. The examples and interviews show how an effective argument was developed for the new tax. However, the methods alone do not tell us why these were successful: my research fills this gap and explains the “How?” and the “Why?” I discovered two effective rhetorical approaches that could be used to sell an unpopular tax: (1) use logical arguments to present information, and (2) demonstrate a deep commitment that the tax is the right thing. The Ontario government used logical and reasonable arguments to persuade businesses and citizens that the HST was the right thing to do. Because politicians and civil servants believed that the HST was the right thing to do and were dedicated to its introduction, the HST was implemented without issue and political fallout. This topic informs the fields of technical communication, rhetoric, economics, and public sector communication.