Friday, August 20, 2010

Court turfs business HST challenge; more Liberal bad news

The big business attempt to derail the anti-HST initiative was an amazing bungle.
The six business associations made things worse for the Liberals by launching the last-minute legal challenge to the petition signed by some 705,000 British Columbians.
And B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman quickly dismissed their arguments Friday, ruling that the anti-HST effort "complies with the spirit and the letter" of the initiative legislation.
Bauman noted Premier Gordon Campbell had even described the initiative petition as "a victory for democracy." (Which, naturally, raises questions about what the business groups were attempting to achieve.)
It was a thorough slapdown for the legal challenge.
Lawyers for the business groups - the Council of Forest Industries, Mining Association of B.C., Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, Western Convenience Stores Association, Coast Forest Products Association and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce - argued the Chief Electoral Officer should never have approved the initiative.
Initiatives can only be launched on issues within provincial jurisdiction. The HST was imposed by the federal government and isn't a provincial tax at all, the business groups argued. The draft bill extinguishing the tax, part of the initiative process, was therefore fatally flawed.
Leave aside the legal issues for a second and just consider the argument based on common sense. The federal government says it didn't bring the HST. The business groups are arguing the provincial government didn't bring it in either. A new tax, apparently, just happened - maybe the tax fairy brought it.
Bauman rejected the argument on legal grounds. There might be constitutional problems in repealing the tax, he agreed.
But the standard set out in the initiative act is simply that the matter is within the jurisdiction of the province. Bauman noted the draft bill calls for the cancellation of the Comprehensive Integrated Tax Co-ordination Agreement between the federal and provincial governments.
That's the agreement to introduce the tax and, he noted, it's clearly within provincial jurisdiction.
The business groups also argued the draft bill that would end the HST wasn't clear enough. Bauman said that just wasn't true.
It was a rout. All the business groups succeeded in doing was angering many members of the public, who objected to an attempt to subvert a successful grassroots democratic effort. (One lauded by the premier, remember.) And they reminded people that businesses are paying $1.9 billion less in taxes under the HST, while individuals and families are paying $1.9 billion more.
None of this means the tax will be repealed.
The anti-HST effort now goes to the legislative initiatives committee, which has six Liberal MLAs and four New Democrats. The committee has 90 days to choose one of two courses.
It can pass the draft bill to repeal the tax on to the legislature. The government is free to ignore it, amend it or use its majority to vote it down.
Or it can send the measure to a province-wide referendum in September 2011.
That might be appealing in some ways. The standards for success in a referendum are daunting. To pass, the anti-HST side would need the support of more than 50 per cent of registered voters across the province and in at least two-thirds of riding.
The key words there are "registered voters." It's not a question of getting a majority of the people who turn out to vote; it has to be a more than 50 per cent of those on the voters' list. Those who don't show up - about 45 per cent in the 2009 election - would be counted as supporting the HST.
And even if the anti-HST side is successful, the result isn't binding.
There are no good choices for the Liberals.
Assuming they won't retreat on the tax, public anger will continue and recall campaigns will soon be launched against vulnerable MLAs.
The Campbell government has dug a very deep hole for itself.
Footnote: The initiatives committee is chaired by Terry Lake, a first-term Liberal MLA from Kamloops. The other Liberals are Eric Foster and John Slater from the Okanagan, Pat Pimm of Peace River North and Richard Lee and Dave Hayer from the Lower Mainland.
The New Democrats are Jenny Kwan and Mike Farnworth from the Lower Mainland, Katrine Conroy from Kootenay West and Rob Fleming from Victoria.
The Liberals should start worrying about how the committee process is going to go.


DPL said...

I liked it when Bill V. mentioned that the business group spent more money in court in one day than was spent by the No HST Group in the whole year. People are mad, are not going to go away and Gordo better start dealing with reality

wstander said...

You have made the same mistake the Big Business Boys made.

Baumann did NOT say the matter was withing the "jurisdiction of the province", as you have reported. He said the matter was within the jurisdiction of the Legislature, and pointed out that those were not the same thing.