Former premier Bill Vander Zalm's 700,000-signature petition against British Columbia's HST will be allowed to proceed, a provincial Supreme Court justice ruled Friday in Vancouver.
Chief Justice Robert Bauman said in his decision that Premier Gordon Campbell himself called the petition against the harmonized sales tax a success for democracy and it would rob petitioners of the fruits of that victory to deny them the right to proceed.
Following the decision, Vander Zalm was ecstatic when he appeared on a CBC Radio open-line show.
"It’s a fantastic day. We are so delighted. It's a victory for democracy. It is a victory for people of B.C.," said Vander Zalm.
"It's a clear message to the premier and to the government that they can in fact deal with it in the legislature," he said.
Outside the courthouse, Opposition NDP Leader Carole James called on Campbell to recall the legislature early to start dealing with the petition and its draft legislation.
"The public voice is clear. Let's get rid of the HST. The committee should meet this current week. We should get on with it. Bring the legislature back and let's do right by the public," said James.
Now that the court has ruled the petition is valid, the legislative committee has 30 days in which to meet and another 90 days after that to decide on a vote in the legislature or a referendum in September 2011, said B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen.
"We've said all along that we want to make sure that the provisions of the Recall and Initiative Act are followed to the letter of the law," Hansen said. "In terms of what has to happen next, it's very clear in that legislation, and we are anxious that that process get under way."
Business leaders disappointed by ruling
B.C. Chamber of Commerce president John Winter said he was disappointed with the decision.
A group of B.C. businesses first launched the court action in an effort to stop the anti-HST petition and draft legislation that is aimed at rolling back the 12 per cent tax, which merges the federal GST with the provincial sales tax.
Lawyers for the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Council of Forest Industries and the Mining Association of B.C. argued in court that the proposed legislation is outside the jurisdiction of the province because the HST was enacted by a federal law.
But Bauman disagreed and said it was not necessary for the draft bill to be a perfect piece of legislation to proceed and it would be the job of the legislature to decide on the final version.
He then asked B.C.'s chief electoral officer to forward the petition to the legislature, where a committee will have 90 days to either send it directly to the house for a vote on the draft legislation or hold a non-binding provincial vote sometime next year.
Bauman is also expected to rule later on a counter-challenge by petition leader Vander Zalm, who argued the new tax is unconstitutional because it was never passed by the provincial legislature.