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Bill Vander Zalm calls the HST "a cruel tax." ((CBC))

Thousands of taxpayers angry about the introduction of the harmonized sales tax rallied throughout British Columbia Saturday.

Leading the charge against the plan to blend the provincial sales tax and the federal goods and services tax were former premier Bill Vander Zalm and current provincial NDP Leader Carole James.

At least 15 rallies took place across the province, the largest of which was outside the new convention centre in Vancouver, where an estimated 2,000 people gathered to voice their opposition.

Vander Zalm told the crowd there that they have the power to stop the tax by putting pressure on the B.C. Liberal government.

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A woman holds a sign at an anti-HST rally in Vancouver. ((CBC))

He said the 12 per cent sales tax, to be implemented in July 2010, will take money from those least able to pay during an economic downturn.

"The HST is a cruel tax," Vander Zalm said. "It takes from the people, the consumers, particularly … the seniors, the students, the people that can least afford to pay yet another tax and it's giving to the big corporations."

HST will make B.C. stronger, says finance minister

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Blair Qualey, the president and CEO of the New Car Dealers Association of B.C., says he supports the HST. ((CBC))

Finance Minister Colin Hansen was quick to respond, holding a news conference with business leaders to talk about why B.C. should implement the HST.

"There's no question that the HST is the most effective form of … consumer tax that a country or a jurisdiction can implement," he said, adding the tax will create jobs.

"As a government, we feel very strongly this is absolutely the right thing to do for British Columbians and it will ensure that British Columbia is a stronger province."

Blair Qualey, the president and CEO of the New Car Dealers Association of B.C., said his members are mostly small-business owners hit hard by the recession, and the HST will help.

"If this thing is gonna really be helpful for the B.C. economy and help forestry companies and mining companies and the companies that employ the people that come into my dealership and buy vehicles, then absolutely, we're supportive of this," he said.

The Liberal government says the HST will save employers and corporations billions of dollars each year, and those savings will be passed on to consumers.

With files from The Canadian Press