B.C. HST referendum set for June

The B.C. government is working toward holding a provincewide referendum on the controversial harmonized sales tax on June 24.
Former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm waits to board a ferry in Tsawwassen, B.C., in June 2010 to deliver anti-HST petitions which contain more than 700,000 signatures to Elections B.C. in Victoria. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The B.C. government is working toward holding a provincewide referendum June 24 on the controversial harmonized sales tax.

Attorney General Barry Penner said Friday that the government decided to move up the mail-in vote after listening to HST critics and others concerned about holding the referendum next September, as originally planned.

The referendum question will be: "Are you in favour of extinguishing the HST (harmonized sales tax) and reinstating the PST (provincial sales tax) in conjunction with the GST (goods and services tax)?"

The province says voting by mail-in ballot will save an estimated $18 million.

"In choosing a mail-in vote, we thought carefully about voter turnout and the significant cost savings in having a mail-in ballot," Penner said. "We determined the mail-in was the best option."

The referendum will be binding.

The HST was announced in July 2009, less than three months after the B.C. Liberals won their third straight majority government. It came into effect one year later.

The tax was not a major issue during the campaign, because the Liberals said it was not on their radar, but documents released last spring revealed federal and provincial bureaucrats were engaged in an HST courtship that started months before the election.

The HST combines the five-per-cent federal GST with the former seven-per cent B.C. provincial sales tax into a single 12-per-cent tax.

Opponents argue British Columbians pay more under the tax because many items that were not previously subject to provincial sales tax are subject to the HST.

An anti-HST petition drive led by former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm received more than 500,000 validated signatures and prompted the referendum.