Committee talks tax vote, referendum

British Columbians could learn as early as Wednesday what will happen to former premier Bill Vander Zalm’s petition to repeal the harmonized sales tax, says the spokesman for an all-party government committee.

VICTORIA — British Columbians could learn as early as Wednesday what will happen to former premier Bill Vander Zalm’s petition to repeal the harmonized sales tax, says the spokesman for an all-party government committee.

Kamloops-North Thompson Liberal Terry Lake said the 10-member, all-party legislative initiatives committee will likely take longer than one meeting to decide the direction of Vander Zalm’s repeal petition, but stranger things have happened in B.C. politics.

Lake is positive, though, that the committee, which is meeting for the first time ever, doesn’t need its allotted 90 days to come to a decision.

“One of the challenges that we face is there is no template for this committee in terms of history,” said Lake. “We’ll be forging new territory. Hopefully we can do that in an amicable way.”

The six Liberals and four New Democrats on the committee have two options: one is sending Vander Zalm’s anti-HST petition to a vote in the legislature, and the other results in a provincewide, nonbinding HST-repeal referendum to be held in September 2011.

If it goes to the legislature, the Liberals could use their majority to vote it down. If it goes to the public for a vote, a successful repeal vote will be difficult.

To be successful, the referendum requires a 50-per-cent majority vote gained by winning a 50-per-cent majority of the votes of registered voters in two-thirds of the province’s 85 ridings.

Lake said he expects Wednesday’s meeting to determine the mechanics of how the committee operates — it’s never met before — and once that is achieved, there isn’t much to do.

The choices are clear: a vote in the legislature or a referendum, he said.

“It could all be over in one committee meeting, but I suspect I would personally prefer to allow a little time and space between the role of clarifying the work of the committee and doing the actual meat-and-potatoes work,” Lake said.

Lake would not say what direction he prefers the committee to move, a vote or referendum, but whatever happens it shouldn’t take long.

“It doesn’t seem to me that it should take 90 days,” he said.

The Opposition New Democrats have said they want Vander Zalm’s repeal HST petition to go to the legislature for a free vote.

The committee meeting promises to be the kick-off of what could be an intense political season.

The HST has continued to be a hot issue since it became law last July, further intensified with the release last week of internal government documents that reveal B.C. government bureaucrats were working on the HST with Ottawa prior to the May 2009 provincial election.

B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen has said bureaucrats may have been examining the HST prior to the election, but they were doing so on their own and were not under political orders.

The B.C. cabinet is also holding its first meeting on Thursday after a summer break.

The cabinet is expected to discuss whether or not to hold a public inquiry in the police investigation of serial killer Robert Pickton, who faces 26 murder charges in connection with the disappearances of dozens of women from Vancouver’s downtown Eastside.

Pickton was convicted of six murders and sentenced to life in prison.

A Vancouver police report said police were on Pickton’s trail in the late 1990s but joint police efforts between the RCMP and Vancouver police actually slowed down the investigation.

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