The B.C. government has chosen the quickest, cheapest way of deciding whether to scrap the harmonized sales tax, Attorney General Barry Penner says.
In a statement released Friday, Penner said the B.C. Liberal cabinet is moving ahead with a mail-in vote on the HST with a target date of June 24. Premier Christy Clark campaigned for the leadership on an early vote, and the government expects to save more than half of the $30 million cost of an in-person vote.
“Moving to a mail-in ballot is expected to save taxpayers $18 million and address potential voter fatigue” with a federal election now expected in May, Penner said.
In proceeding early under the Referendum Act, the government is taking over a process started by former premier Bill Vander Zalm. His Fight HST organization gathered more than 500,000 signatures to pass B.C.’s first-ever initiative petition last year, forcing a review of the tax.
Vander Zalm was conciliatory when he was told of the government’s decision.
“I’m impressed with what the premier has done,” Vander Zalm said. “She’s keeping her promise of an earlier vote. The mail-in ballot is fine with me, as long as the majority of the people have an opportunity to participate.”
Clark also followed through with a promise to fund both sides of the campaign to decide the fate of the HST.
Vander Zalm said he is concerned about how much the “big business lobby” will be allowed to spend to persuade people to keep the tax, which expands the former provincial sales tax to a range of previously exempt services.
The Referendum Act gives the cabinet wide latitude to set the spending limits and other terms of a vote. Details of the referendum will be released later in a cabinet order, Penner said.
The referendum question will use the wording proposed by Elections B.C., which is supervising the vote:
“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)? Yes/No.”