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A long, lonely fight for democracy
It’s usually pitch black when Corisa Bell begins her day.
She’s awake before six to shower and dress while the rest of house is still asleep. She prepares breakfast for her two daughters – one in high school, the other in elementary – as well as the Korean student boarding with the family. After dropping them off at school, she returns home to begin the work that has consumed her life for the past year.
There’s schedules to confirm, canvassers to coordinate, supplies to deliver, fundraisers to plan, signature sheets to collect, as well as the ever-ringing phone to answer.
Bell is the driving force behind the local Fight HST campaign, and until it folded last week, the head organizer for the Down With Dalton recall campaign.
Her home in Maple Ridge’s upscale Rock Ridge neighbourhood is impeccably clean, and even the massive stacks of papers that have rendered the family’s kitchen table all but useless, are arranged in neat, orderly rows.
From this home base, she manages a team of more than 100 volunteers. She has spent countless hours canvassing Maple Ridge homes, collecting signatures door-to-door in driving wind and rain. It’s not uncommon for her to be up until one or two in the morning, she says.
Her 30th birthday was last month, but she opted to forego a party for the milestone.
“We’ll have one when all this is done. It will be nice to spend that time with my family,” says Bell.
“The campaign has been tough on them. They are used to getting all my attention.”
Bell still finds time to volunteer as a class representative for her daughter’s elementary school’s parent advisory council, and regularly helps out with the annual Christmas Haven event and Katie’s Place animal shelter.
Although the recall campaign has meant less time with her children, Bell says they are the reason she got involved in the first place. Bell hopes the Fight HST campaign sets a positive example for future generations.
“It’s a sacrifice, but it’s worth it. I want to teach them that if something’s not right, you need to stand up and say so,” she says. “If you believe in something, you have to do something about it.”
To Bell, the HST represents a war on the middle class that, if left unchecked, will only widen the gulf between the rich and the poor.
“Instead of corporations, it’s people who will be paying the tax,” she says. “If this continues, in 10 to 20 years, there will be no middle class.”
The two main positives the Liberals said the tax would bring – more jobs and lower consumer pricing – haven’t materialized, she contends. The supposed benefits of the tax really only apply to big businesses, Bell adds, and the majority of business owners in B.C. won’t see any benefit.
“Our business certainly hasn’t benefitted,” she says. “I talk to businesses all the time and they tell me the same thing.”
Bell and her husband Jon operate a successful web development company, and their new Maple Ridge home would certainly suggest the couple is doing quite well. But that wasn’t always the case, she says.
“I grew up in a trailer in Terrace, living paycheck to paycheck, so I know what it’s like to be poor,” she says. “Jon didn’t have a lot of money growing up, either. We’ve both worked very hard to get where we are, but we haven’t forgotten where we’ve come from.”
Bell wasn’t always so politically active, though. She didn’t vote for the first time until she was 23, and was “pretty out of the loop,” by her own admission.
But more and more, she began to hear people her own age say that voting didn’t matter, that it was a waste of time. The apathy of her peers shocked her.
“I wanted to prove to them that it wasn’t a waste of time,” Bell says.
Bell first became involved with the local Fight HST campaign after visiting a community forum held at the Ridge Meadows Seniors’ Activity Centre last year. When Bell arrived, she found hundreds of people lined up outside, and the small number of volunteers on hand struggling to deal with the chaos.
She stepped in to help organize the crowd, and the event organizers asked her if she would be interested in organizing the local Fight HST campaign. At the time, Maple Ridge was the last area in B.C. without a coordinator.
“When I said yes, I had no idea it would last this long, or turn into a recall campaign,” says Bell.
Her husband Jon has supported her every step of the way,
“In a country where the rich continue to take from the less fortunate and kick into submission anyone trying to make a difference, Corisa still fights,” he said. “Why? Because she knows what’s happening with the HST isn’t right ... If only our MLAs weren’t too selfish to stand up in this same way.”
Last May, Bell spearheaded the Fight HST petition in the provincial electoral ridings of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, and Maple Ridge-Mission, gathering 12,000 signatures in the first 45 days of the 90-day campaign.
“I wasn’t surprised we succeeded,” she says. “It was extremely clear no one wanted [the HST].”
When the Liberal government decided to put off a referendum on the tax until September 2011, the campaign shifted gears and targeted Maple Ridge-Mission Liberal MLA Marc Dalton with a recall campaign.
In order to be successful, and trigger a by-election, Bell and her volunteers needed the signatures of 14,000 registered voters in the riding within a 90-day span.
After new premier Christy Clark announced the HST referendum would be moved up to June, Bell and co-organizer Wilf McIntyre decided last week to abandon the recall campaign, which was to have run into May, and instead focus solely on the mail-in ballot HST referendum.
The group had collected 2,000 signatures in the first month of the recall campaign.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, because I knew that we could be successful,” Bell says. “It was one or the other.”
Still, Bell admits the deck may have been stacked against the recall campaign from the beginning.
“The recall legislation was written in a very particular way, so it wouldn’t be successful,” she says. “Dalton and his people are free to do whatever they want, but we are strapped with all sorts of rules.
“It’s made to fail. It’s made to be impossible.”
But the recall campaign wasn’t completely ineffective, she said.
“That pressure forced them to move [the HST referendum] up to June. It made a difference.”
Both the recall and the Fight HST campaigns have been grass roots efforts, she contends, and Bell bristles at the notion that the NDP is involved.
“Sometimes I wish they were,” she says. “It would be nice to have that support.”
But the recall campaign was about more than just recalling an MLA, she says, just as the Fight HST campaign was about more than an unfair tax.
“It’s about holding the politicians we elect to account,” she says. “It’s about standing up and saying, ‘This isn’t right.’ It’s about participating in our democracy, and letting the people we hire to represent us know they work for us, and not the other way around.”
Bell believes the popular support of the Fight HST campaigns is a sign that more and more people are fed up with how governments in Canada treat Canadians.
“I used to be so proud to be Canadian,” she says. “I even stopped drinking Molson Canadian after they sold it to the Americans. But I just don’t feel like I’m a part of Canada anymore. The government does whatever it wants, and we don’t matter anymore.”
The only way to change things to stand up and hold elected politicians to account, she says, and the HST referendum is just that opportunity.