British Columbia

HST fight makes allies of B.C. political foes

The B.C. Liberal government is about to face an unprecedented political fight over its plans to introduce a harmonized sales tax, led by opponents as varied as populist premier Bill Vander Zalm and the Opposition New Democrats.
B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen, standing, has introduced legislation to bring the harmonized sales tax to British Columbia. ((Canadian Press))
B.C.'s Liberal government is about to face an unprecedented political fight over its plans to introduce a harmonized sales tax.

HST opponents as varied as populist premier Bill Vander Zalm and the Opposition New Democrats are prepared to battle the government on two fronts, inside and outside the legislature.

The NDP and Vander Zalm — past political foes now strangely united in their attack on the combined tax — are at least tolerating each other. NDP Leader Carole James has appeared on the same anti-HST stage as Vander Zalm and each has complimented the other, but there are no signs of a co-ordinated barrage.

The New Democrats say they will use every procedural manoeuvre available to extend debate on the tax law, while Vander Zalm plans to take his campaign to the streets, community halls and recreation centres to sign up furious British Columbians who say they will vote to repeal the proposed law.

"We're going to keep beating the HST drum for as long as we can," said New Democrat House Leader Mike Farnworth. "We will be lighting HST fires under the feet of any member of this government to get them to see the point that the people don't like it."

Farnworth almost dared the government to use the legislative hammer and force closure on the HST debate sometime this spring: "You are talking days and weeks and potentially months if we're able to use all that's available to us," he said.

NDP Leader Carole James has found herself on the same side of the GST debate as former Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm. ((CBC))
The NDP wants seven Liberals to vote against their own government to defeat the HST law. There are currently 49 Liberals, 35 New Democrats and one Independent in the legislature.

So far, no Liberals have indicated they will break ranks and vote against their own party.

B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen introduced legislation last week that ultimately joins the current seven per cent provincial sales tax (PST) with the five per cent federal goods and services tax (GST), creating a 12 per cent harmonized sales tax (HST).

British Columbia is poised to join Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador in introducing the HST.

Ontario voted in favour of the tax last December after the federal government offered the province $4.3 billion to buffer the blow of the HST transition.

Ottawa offered the B.C. government $1.6 billion to move to the HST, and the province has already used $750 million to offset its budget deficit.

HST pits business interests against consumers: NDP

Hansen has said the value-added HST is the most important initiative the province can undertake to fight the recession. The finance minister said the HST will save business an estimated $2 billion in costs, resulting in more investment, more jobs and lower prices. 

But the New Democrats say the HST hits consumers by adding an extra seven per cent tax on many items — everything from bicycles and haircuts to funerals — that were previously exempt from the provincial tax .

Former premier Bill Vander Zalm has returned to the political wars to battle the introduction of the harmonized sales tax in British Columbia. (Canadian Press)
Vander Zalm, the former Social Credit premier during the 1980s who was known for his charming demeanour but resigned amid a political scandal, has launched a petition with Elections BC to repeal the law.

To succeed, he must collect the signatures of 10 per cent of registered B.C. voters in every riding within 90 days, starting Tuesday.

Vander Zalm, who has already been touring British Columbia gathering anti-HST support, will hold his first official rally on Tuesday at a high school in Premier Gordon Campbell's Vancouver-Point Grey riding.

"On the 6th of April, it's only appropriate and fair to the premier that we do it in his constituency," he said.

Vander Zalm said the HST punishes consumers and small businesses while tying British Columbia to the federal government, which gains more tax authority over the province.

"It's the dumbest thing politically that's ever happened in this province," he said.