Taking the Initiative

Posted by Daniel on May 17, 2010 - 4 comments

You've probably been stopped as often as I have this spring by sidewalk activists wondering if you'd like to add your signature to the anti-HST petition in your electoral riding.

It's pretty clear that a lot of people are opposed to the 12% tax, introduced by the provincial government to replace the GST/PST. Perhaps less clear is what happens if the petition is successful. Will it mean an end to the HST?

Not necessarily.

Under the terms of the Recall and Initiative Act, the anti-HST movement has started a process that is long and convoluted. First of all, the petition is proposing a new law that would withdraw the HST. At the moment, signatures are being gathered on that petition. By July 5, the petition, to go forward, must contain the signatures of ten percent of the voters in each of the province's 85 electoral districts. So far, so good.

If the Chief Electoral Officer verifies that the petition has met this threshold, then the CEO refers it to a Standing Committee of the legislature which must act on the matter. The government could agree to withdraw the HST; or it could hold a vote in the legislature on the proposed repeal legislation and vote it down, leaving us with the HST; or the Standing Committee could launch a province-wide initiative vote on the proposed law, which would take place in September 2011. (An initiative vote is something like a referendum but not the same thing.) If the law was approved in that vote, the provincial government would be required to introduce legislation repealing the HST.

Of course the Liberals have a majority in the legislature and could easily vote down any repeal legislation, leaving the HST in place. The anti-HST camp is counting on the fact that a successful petition, and/or initiative vote, would show the government that such a large number of British Columbians oppose the HST that it is somehow undemocratic and politically unacceptable to continue to impose it.

If the Campbell Liberals persist in supporting the HST through all this, then the anti-HSTers have said that they intend to begin recall campaigns against selected Liberal MLAs.

The whole thing promises to drag on for many months, barring a sudden change of heart on the part of the Premier, which does not seem likely.