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August 23, 2010
Petition to quash British Columbia’s harmonized sales tax stalls
An anti-harmonized sales tax group claims the decision to wait for the outcome of a B.C. Supreme Court case before acting on their petition is undemocratic, while supporters of the tax argue the legal proceedings are part of the democratic process.
“Craig James’ refusal to submit the successful petition Bill to the Standing Committee means that he has effectively destroyed the democratic process,” said the Fight HST leader and former premier Bill Vander Zalm.
Last week, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Bauman presided over five days of hearings in a legal battle that involves actions taken by both pro-HST and anti-HST groups in the B.C. Supreme Court.
James, who is the chief electoral officer for Elections B.C. said on August 11 that the Fight HST petition was successful because it had been signed by 10 per cent or more of voters in every constituency in the province.
However, he wouldn’t submit the petition until there is a ruling in the court case against the HST.
“James is opening the door for any group opposed to a Citizen Initiative in future to thwart the democratic will of the people simply by launching a challenge to that petition in court,” said Vander Zalm.
“It is outrageous, and reeks of political interference by the government and their friends in big business, and we are not going to allow it.
A coalition of six business associations, including the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA), launched a legal challenge that claims the HST Extinguishment Act is unconstitutional.
“Bill Vander Zalm is playing fast and loose with the truth,” said Philip Hochstein, president of the ICBA.
“This isn’t big business. Construction is an industry that is made up of small businesses. To classify us as large business is a misrepresentation.”
The other organizations that are proponents of the legal challenge are: the Council of Forest Industries; the Mining Association of B.C.; the Western Convenience Stores Association; the Coast Forest Products Association and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.
The main argument is the HST was imposed by federal legislation and the B.C. Legislature can’t vote to undo a federal law.
“If Vander Zalm thinks this is undemocratic, well that is just bogus,” said Hochstein.
“The democratic process includes the court system, which has to determine if things are valid. This case is not frustrating the democratic process, it is part of the democratic process.”
A legal action was then launched by Fight HST leaders to also have the tax declared unconstitutional.
The main argument is the HST was not debated and voted on in the provincial Legislature, and therefore violates the basic principle that there can be no taxation without representation or without the consent of the people.
“Depending on the outcome of either of the two Supreme Court cases, the whole thing could become moot,” said Hochstein.
“Elections B.C. is handling this situation properly. There is no use in forwarding the petition, if the draft legislation is not legal.”
The Fight HST leaders believe James does not have the authority to hold back the petition. They argue that he must pass the bill on to the special committee, after making sure the signatures are valid and there are no financial improprieties.
“This is the worst kind of political meddling I have ever seen in all my political days,” said Vander Zalm.
“It challenges the credibility of the chief electoral officer and that of the entire organization of Elections BC. It must be stopped.”
“James is following the spirit and intent of the law,” he said. “This is a very prudent approach because there is no point in grinding through the process if the bill is not valid. He has not overstepped his authority.”
The president of the British Columbia Construction Association, Manley McLachlan, said his members aren’t making any preparations at the moment to deal with the possible repeal of the HST.
He said this type of change is still a long way off, even if the petition is forwarded to the Legislative committee and the issue goes to a referendum.
For this reason, the construction industry is going about its business as usual.
In response to Elections BC’s refusal to act on the petition, Fight HST has submitted the successful Initiative petition and draft Bill to End the HST directly to the Select Standing Committee for Legislative Initiatives.
The group is also starting a recall campaign against all BC Liberal MLAs starting Nov. 15.
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