Tuesday, August 17, 2010

HST mess gets worse for the Liberals

Big business groups in B.C. are the NDP's best allies right now.
Just when the Liberals thought the anti-HST anger might be fading, six big business associations have got voters riled up again.
The 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 - want the B.C. Supreme Court to rule the anti-HST petition invalid.
They filed a legal challenge one day before the proponents delivered petitions with 700,000 names calling for the tax to be rescinded.
The challenge, along with a counter argument from opponents that the HST itself is illegal because the legislature never approved it, are being heard in B.C. Supreme Court this week. Chief Justice Robert Bauman will decide the merits of the arguments.
But the Liberals have already been badly hurt, no matter what Bauman decides.
The government had decided people's anger was easing. That's why Finance Minister Colin Hansen took the heat for dumping 1.6 million pro-HST flyers in the garbage. Being criticized for waste was considered better than sending out brochures reminding people about the new tax.
But the legal challenges and resulting complications have fuelled new anger about the tax and the way it was introduced.
For starters, the business groups' lawsuit is a reminder that they're the big winners with the HST.
Companies get to pay $1.9 billion less in taxes. Families and individuals will pay an extra $1.9 billion to pay for the break for the business community.
And the case reinforces some voters' impression idea that the Liberals place the interests of companies ahead of the citizens. That suspicion is heightened by the six groups $380,000 in political contributions to the Liberals since 2001. (Their members have contributed millions more.)
Things got even worse for the government after Elections B.C.'s fumbled its handling of the anti-HST initiative. It finished a review of the petitions and concluded the opponents had the required signatures from 10 per cent of registered voters in all 85 ridings.
But interim chief electoral officer Craig James decided he would not send the petition and proposed legislation to rescind the tax to a committee of MLAs, the next step in the process, until after the court cases are resolved.
Worse, James refused to provide a public explanation for the decision until this week, when he responded to a letter from NDP MLA Leonard Krog.
James said he sought independent legal advice. The lawyer for the business groups also urged him not to send the initiative to the legislative committee, he noted.
The delay wouldn't be long, James concluded, and it would be prudent to sit on the petition until after a court decision.
It's a defensible argument, but not compelling.
The committee would not likely have been in any rush to deal with the issues until after the court rulings anyway. Simply passing on the initiative - which Elections B.C. had already approved - wouldn't undermine the independence of the courts.
Right or wrong, the decision ramped up public anger. The anti-HST forces had succeeded in getting more than 700,000 names on the petitions, meeting a standard many considered impossible.
Then not only did big business launch a legal attack, but Elections B.C. wouldn't send the initiative to the committee.
For a lot of voters, this started to look like their legitimate efforts to exercise their democratic rights were being thwarted. The rhetoric about political interference was over the top, but it reflected real anger.
The court case is expected to finish this week. Bauman will then rule on whether the HST was never properly passed by the legislature, as the opponents allege, and whether the anti-HST initiative is fatally flaws, as the business groups claim.
In the meantime, voter anger over the tax, the way it was introduced and the government's response is aboil once again.
Footnote: If the initiative goes ahead after the court challenges, the committee of MLAs has 90 days to send the issue back to Elections B.C. for a non-binding referendum or to send the bill rescinding the tax to the legislature. In either case, the Liberal majority can ultimately vote to defeat the legislation and keep the tax.
Which would mean, though, conceding the next election to the NDP.


cherylb said...

The lawyer for the business groups, who just happens to be ex-Liberal MLA and Attorney General, Geoff Plant (what? is there not one other lawyer in the entire city qualified to do this case?), urged him to delay submitting the petition to the select committee? He complied with the "suggestion". And we are not to surmise from that political interference? And how stupid is the voting public? For shame! Craig James has destroyed the integrity and impartiality of an office in two months, that the staff struggled to build for years. These people are beyond corrupt. IMHO, it borders on criminal.

Gary E said...

And, we have already had a referendum. Only we called it a citizens Initiative Petition. It didn't cost the taxpayers $40 million either.
Recall in the Fall

Anonymous said...

Is it true BC lotteries is part of this lawsuit? I heard it was along with Macs , 7-11 ,and petrocan.

cherylb said...

Yes, and BC Ferries, BC Pavco, or whatever they're called and I believe BC Hydro. Due to the fact that they are members of some of these organizations. So, how do you like partially paying for these lawsuits?

Really good lists of businesses at Laila Yule's blog and Norman Farrell has started a new one. They list all the businesses involved.

Kim said...


I wrote to GardensWest Magazine and Western Convenience Stores Assn yesterday, to inform them I will boycott their business and that of their advertisers until they provide me in writing that thhey do not support the lawsuit. Today, I think I'll write Kaltire, cocacola bottling, nestle and frito-lay.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking for a copy of the letter to NDP MLA Leonard Krog from Acting Chief Electoral Officer Craig James.

I'm also looking for a copy of one of the 1.6 million pro-HST fliers that Chairman Campbell dumped.

Any URLs appreciated.

Original documents help keep the FUD levels down.


Before 'we' take Acting Chief Electoral Officer Craig James out to the proverbial woodshed for remedial therapy it would be worth 'our' time to review the Recall and Initiative Act - specifically 'we' should look at Part 10, Section 170, Emergencies and other extraordinary circumstances

(1) The chief electoral officer may, by specific or general order, make exceptions to this Act and the regulations under this Act in accordance with the purposes of this Act if, in the opinion of the chief electoral officer, this is necessary because of an emergency, a mistake or extraordinary circumstances in relation to proceedings under this Act.

(2) Without limiting subsection (1), the chief electoral officer may make orders extending a time period or establishing a new date in place of one set under this Act and giving any other direction the chief electoral officer considers appropriate in relation to this.

Clearly this section gives the chief electoral officer (acting, or otherwise) a considerable amount of leeway the administration of the act.

What does "extraordinary circumstances" mean in the context of the present circumstances?

Does a court challenge count as "extraordinary"?


It would seem to me - watching from the sidelines with imperfect information - that James bigger transgression was in meeting with the Corporations' counsel.

Who were the lawyers James met with?
What _exactly_ was discussed?
How many meetings were there?

Did the Corporations' counsel register as a lobbyist before lobbying the acting chief electoral officer?

Anonymous said...

How to Win Friends and Influence People

B.C. lawyer compares anti-HST protesters to potheads

Comparing the grass-roots campaign to overturn the HST to potheads, a lawyer representing big business says their efforts have been a waste of money and time because the Legislature of B.C. can’t eliminate the tax. -- Ian Mulgrew, Vancouver Sun