HST opponents celebrate campaign

Organizers of the anti-HST campaign are thanking supporters for a petition drive that has collected nearly 700,000 signatures.

Organizers of British Columbia's anti-HST campaign are thanking supporters for a successful petition drive that has collected nearly 700,000 signatures against the controversial tax.

The HST, or harmonized sales tax, is due to take effect in B.C. on July 1. It combines the seven per cent provincial sales tax and five per cent Goods and Services Tax into a new 12 per cent harmonized tax.

Opponents to the tax, led by former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm, argue British Columbians will pay more under the HST because it applies to a wider array of goods and services than the provincial sales tax does.

The opposition launched a Citizens Initiative aimed at forcing the government to hold a referendum on the new tax. Vander Zalm said in May the group had met its threshold of collecting the signatures of at least 10 per cent of the registered voters in each of the province's 85 ridings.

Vander Zalm and his supporters gathered Saturday on the North Shore side of the Lions Gate Bridge to wave at passing motorists.

The former premier said he will deliver the petition to Victoria on Wednesday, the day before the tax is set to take effect.

But Vander Zalm said he won't stop there.

"Oh, we're going to keep campaigning until the HST is gone, so we'll keep doing this," he said.

"We keep people aware. We'll go to recall next, we'll do whatever it takes. I think the premier has to listen sometime."

Vander Zalm has warned a recall campaign would target 24 Liberal MLAs who could pay for the tax with their jobs. He said the "HST hit list" is made up of MLAs from ridings where the petition campaign collected signatures of at least 25 per cent of registered voters.

In order to successfully recall an MLA, volunteers will have to collect signatures from 40 per cent of eligible voters in the riding of each MLA they target. Vander Zalm said the campaign will target one MLA at a time, rather target all 24 MLAs at once.

Meanwhile, anti-HST organizers in the Okanagan took to the streets of Kelowna, B.C., on Saturday to protest the tax one last time.

"We've got over 25 per cent in almost each constituency so a lot of signatures have been collected," said Daniel Thorburn, who campaigned against the tax in four ridings — three in Kelowna and one in nearby Vernon.

The HST has already taken its toll on the provincial Liberals, who saw former energy minister Blair Lekstrom quit the party recently to protest the tax. Lekstrom, who represents the riding of Peace River South, now sits as an independent in the legislature.

However, Finance Minister Colin Hansen has maintained there is support for the HST.

He said many businesses support the tax because it will prop up plummeting government revenues.

Hansen said he is frustrated by an Elections B.C. ruling preventing the province from advertising the benefits of the tax until July 6, after it comes into effect.

He said the province will distribute flyers once that restriction is lifted.

"We're looking at rolling out some ads, probably early in July, once we're past the blackout period," he said.

"We will ... go ahead with a mailer that will go to every mailbox in the province, every household. It will focus probably more so on the general state of the economy and how the HST fits in."

The federal government offered B.C. $1.6 billion to switch to the HST.

With files from The Canadian Press