Former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm has been given the green light to launch a petition that could one day derail the province's looming HST — but first the petition needs to overcome some very challenging stipulations.
British Columbia's Chief Electoral Officer Harry Neufeld approved the initiative on Thursday, giving the opponents of B.C.'s harmonized sales tax 90 days — starting on April 6 — to collect signatures from 10 per cent of voters in each of the 85 electoral ridings.
So far six other initiative petitions have been launched in B.C., and none have been successful, but Vander Zalm says he's confident this initiative will succeed where others have failed.
"This is different because we have people of all political persuasions involved in the process, not just NDP. We have former Liberals, we have Conservatives, we have people with no party affiliation. They're all in there," he said.
Vander Zalm says teams of volunteers are ready to hit the streets with the petition on Apr. 6.
"Eight-five per cent of the people are opposed to the HST. We've kept the issue alive and now we're going to go ahead like gangbusters and work on it," said Vander Zalm.
Protest organizer Chris Delaney says the HST will hurt British Columbians at a time when they can least afford it.
"Every citizen will pay an average $500 per year more in sales tax. Major industries such as construction, real estate, restaurants and funeral services will be hit hard. Services like spas, haircuts, packaged foods, airline tickets and professional fees will go up, causing consumers to cut back and hurting our economy," said Delaney.
Stringent requirements for initiative to pass
Everyone involved in collecting signatures, conducting advertising or opposing the petition will first have to register with Elections BC by Mar. 8.
If the petition is successful, it could trigger a province-wide referendum.
For the initiative to pass, more than 50 per cent of registered voters in at least two-thirds of the electoral districts in the province would have to vote in favour of it.
If that happened, the government would be required to introduce the draft bill contained in the petition to withdraw the HST.
The government also has the option of sending the draft bill directly to the legislature without a referendum.
But if either of those options succeed, there is no requirement for the government, which has a majority in the legislature, to pass the draft bill after it is introduced, and it could die on the floor of the house, just like many private member's bills.
Vander Zalm launched the initiative when B.C.'s Liberal government announced the new tax shortly after the May 2009 election. It is due to come into effect on July 1st, replacing the current GST and PST with a 12 per cent tax on all goods and services.