Several hundred concerned taxpayers turned out to hear former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm launch his anti-HST petition Tuesday night in Vancouver.

Vander Zalm's supporters filled the auditorium of Kitsilano Secondary School to hear him criticize Premier Gordon Campbell's surprise introduction of the harmonized sales tax just weeks after the provincial election last May.

The 12 per cent tax goes into effect July 1, replacing the seven per cent PST and five per cent GST.

"If you want to make something bad look good, you have to lie, and you have to lie over and over, and that's what's been happening," Vander Zalm told the crowd.

But not everyone who turned out Tuesday night agreed the tax would be bad for taxpayers. One man said his mother's benefits would actually increase under the HST.

But Vander Zalm challenged him, saying vulnerable people will still be hurt by the new tax.

The former premier also criticized the timing of the introduction of a harmonized tax that will apply to many good and services that were previously exempt from the PST, such as restaurant food, hair cuts and sports club memberships.

"We're in a recession folks," he said. "We were hoping to come out of it. We were hoping to come out of it soon, but these people in Victoria are only digging us deeper down.

"We're going to suffer. Industry and our businesses and all of us will suffer with it. It's a bad tax at a bad time for the wrong reasons."

Recent university graduate Katherine Chan agreed with that sentiment.

"I'm planning to get married, you know, buy a house, build a family, and, seriously, I can't even feed myself now. How am I going to, like, you know, support my own kids?" she said.

Thousands of volunteers collecting signatures

Vander Zalm is aiming to get rid of the tax by forcing the province to hold an initiative vote on the issue, but first, he needs to collect thousands of signatures on a petition supporting his draft bill.

So far, the veteran campaigner has signed up nearly 2,000 volunteers from ridings across B.C. to help him collect the estimated 300,000 voter signatures required to trigger an initiative vote, which is similar to a referendum.

Speaking before the rally, he said told CBC News he has seen a lot of hectic days in his 25-plus years in politics, "but I've never ever experienced anything like this."

"I have faxes coming in and going out till my fax machine is heating up. My telephone has never stopped ringing. And the e-mails? I hate to look at the computer," he said.

About 300 people signed the petition at the rally on Tuesday night, but volunteers have already begun collecting signatures across B.C.

Those organizing the petition have 90 days to collect signatures from 10 per cent of registered voters in every riding. Then Elections BC has to verify the signatures.

Once that is done, a legislative committee would then decide whether it will send a draft bill directly to the legislature for a vote or put the issue to a province-wide vote first.  

But the provincial government has already said the HST is a federal tax, and an initiative vote  wouldn't affect it.