Former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm drove a one-tonne moving truck to the front of the Elections BC office in Victoria Wednesday and helped unload boxes full of anti-HST petition forms.

Vander Zalm's petition drive collected more than 700,000 signatures, well above the threshold of 10 per cent of registered voters in all 85 B.C. ridings, organizers said.

About 50 supporters cheering, "recall, recall" greeted Vander Zalm as his convoy arrived at the Elections BC office.

The petition initiative is one of the most compelling moments in Canadian democracy since Confederation, Vander Zalm said.

The 12 per cent HST, which combines the federal five per cent good and services tax with the seven per cent provincial sales tax, takes effect Thursday.


Bill Vander Zalm drives a truck full of anti-HST petition forms to Elections BC in Victoria Wednesday. ((CBC))

Elections BC is the government agency responsible for examining and counting the signatures and declaring whether the petition is valid and could result in a provincewide referendum.

HST discord

As the deputy leader of the B.C. Conservative Party joined Vander Zalm in delivering the petition, one of the party's vice-presidents stepped down on Wednesday, saying the party was actually in favour of the tax.

Mischa Popoff said there is a mistaken impression that the B.C. Conservatives want to eliminate the tax.

"This isn't true, unfortunately, even though I wish that my party would take a clear stand on that," he said.

"It turns out the B.C. Conservatives want some sort of compromise solution, a made-in-B.C. solution, or something to that effect. And then there's a contingency of the upper brass of the B.C. Conservative Party that flat out just wants to actually support the HST, but they're not saying so publicly."

Political observers have said the B.C. Conservatives, who don't have a sitting member in the legislature, could become a realistic alternative in the province by capitalizing on the anti-HST movement.

It is the second HST defection in recent weeks.

On June 11, Liberal MLA Blair Lekstrom quit the party because of public opposition to the tax.

Judicial review

On Tuesday, a coalition of business organizations applied to the B.C. Supreme Court for a judicial review of the petition campaign against the tax, which merges the five per cent federal GST with the seven per cent provincial sales tax.

A spokesman for the coalition said the campaign is unconstitutional because the HST falls under federal jurisdiction.

"We decided to take this issue on ourselves, primarily because we want some business certainty," said John Allan of the Council of Forest Industries. "We just want to know, is this [petition] legal or not?"

Delaney said people will see the legal challenge as a ploy of the Liberal government, getting others to do its "dirty work."

"They have failed at every other attempt, so I guess they are getting desperate and scraping the bottom of the barrel," said Delaney. "In the end, they will lose."

Recall threatened next

If the petition is declared valid, the government has two options it must exercise within four months. It can either put the issue to a referendum or send a bill repealing the HST to the legislature.

If the government decides to opt for a referendum and loses, it then has no choice but to send the repeal bill to the legislature.

No matter which course Premier Gordon Campbell's government decides to take, the bill would be unlikely to pass, given the Liberal government's 13-seat majority. But Delaney and Vander Zalm are also working on a recall campaign, aimed at ousting as many as 24 Liberal MLAs.

But it would be a tougher challenge than the petition.

Recall regulations require that 40 per cent of registered voters sign a petition in any riding where an attempt at recall is underway.

Opponents say consumers will pay more under the tax because it applies to goods and services that are currently exempt from provincial sales tax, including haircuts, funeral services, and movie and theatre tickets.

The provincial government argues the HST will reduce costs to employers, savings that will be passed on to consumers, and help create an estimated 113,000 jobs.

With files from the CBC's Terry Donnelly