British Columbia·Breaking

Christy Clark rivals pounce on HST 'flip-flop'

B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Christy Clark is taking heat from her opponents after changing her mind about how the future of the HST should be determined.
Christy Clark now favours a referendum on the HST and wants it held earlier than the current September date. (CBC)

B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Christy Clark is taking heat from her opponents after changing her mind about how the future of the HST should be determined, saying she no longer wants a free vote in the B.C. legislature to decide the fate of the controversial tax.

Clark said Wednesday that after consultation with the public, she wants to submit the tax to a provincewide referendum and to hold it three months earlier than its currently scheduled date, as do most other Liberal leadership contenders.

"Since this leadership race started I've talked to thousands more British Columbians and I've concluded this, that the tax does need to go to a referendum, and it needs to go sooner rather than later," said Clark. "It needs to go to referendum on June 24th, 2011."

When Clark left her radio host job to run for the premier's job, she called for a free vote in the legislature to deal with the HST.

Clark said she will vote in favour of keeping the HST, but knows B.C. residents remain mistrustful about the way the Liberals introduced the tax.

The former deputy premier insists she has not flip-flopped.

"No, it's not a change, it's a choice between two options that I put on the table," Clark said.

Opponents pounce

But two of her leadership rivals disagreed and were quick to criticize Clark's announcement.

"Well, actually, I'm glad she flip-flopped on that position to be honest," said Kevin Falcon. "Because I think a five-minute discussion with any British Columbian would have told her very clearly that British Columbians want to have the right to vote on that in a referendum."

George Abbott issued a statement suggesting Clark was being disingenuous about her positions.

"For two months she has been telling British Columbians that the HST referendum was unnecessary, a waste, and that the decision should be made by politicians, not the public," Abbott said. "Suddenly, she now wants people to believe she supported the referendum the whole time. More and more, it's abundantly clear that Ms. Clark's positions are simply not credible."

The HST was introduced in July 2009, less than three months after the B.C. Liberals won their third straight majority government.

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 Goods and Services Tax, with the former seven-per cent B.C. provincial sales tax into a single 12-per cent tax.

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, set for Sept. 24.

With files from the CBC's Jeff Davies and The Canadian Press