Elections BC's drafting of new recall rules after anti-HST organizers had already submitted their petition against a Vancouver Island MLA reeks of incompetence and "amateur hour," says a political scientist.
While government officials said little Friday about Elections BC's decision to reject the application, political observers and members of the legislature teed off on the move, with New Democratic Leader Carole James saying the entire situation was poorly handled.
"The public is scratching their head … and saying, 'How much more mishandling can happen around the HST? What on earth is happening right now?' "
Ms. James made her comments at a downtown Vancouver news conference, one day after The Globe and Mail learned Elections BC rejected the recall application under a rule it established this week.
Anti-HST organizers said they were aware the application had a 200-word limit, but were never told the acronyms MLA (member of the legislative assembly) and HST (harmonized sales tax) constituted more than one word each. Elections BC said the acronyms were a combined eight words, pushing the application over the limit. The rule change was drafted after anti-HST organizers submitted its application Monday. A document outlining the new rule wasn't uploaded to the Elections BC website until Wednesday afternoon.
Anti-HST organizers have launched a recall campaign and plan to collect signatures against members of the Liberal government who supported the establishment of the harmonized sales tax. Their first recall target is Ida Chong, MLA for the suburban Victoria riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head.
A referendum on the tax itself will be held next year, after hundreds of thousands of British Columbians signed a petition calling for the vote.
Ms. James said Elections BC office should have worked with anti-HST organizers, instead of rejecting its recall application outright.
She did not join calls for Elections BC's chief electoral officer Craig James to step down. She sidestepped a question on whether the nonpartisan office made a partisan decision, as the anti-HST group has alleged.
"I believe there's a problem with the way this was handled and I expect it to be fixed," she said without elaborating.
Dennis Pilon, a political science professor at the University of Victoria, blasted Elections BC's actions, saying, "You don't change rules after the fact."
"What kind of amateur hour is going on over there at Elections BC? I mean, this violates some of the most basic rules of democratic administration," he said.
Mr. Pilon said an elections office will sometimes have to change how its rules are administered. But, like Ms. James, he said Elections BC should have worked through any problems with the anti-HST group.
"It doesn't look good. The last thing we want is to mess with independent offices," he said.
Elections BC said Mr. James was unavailable for comment Friday. The elections office said the anti-HST group has resubmitted its application and a decision is expected next week.
Liberal Finance Minister Colin Hansen said Mr. James is a well respected civil servant, well regarded by both sides of the legislature. "He has a reputation for being fastidiously non-partisan," said Mr. Hansen.
George Abbott, who earlier this week announced he's running for the Liberal leadership, came to the chief electoral officer's defence.
"I think the comments that have been directed at Craig James are unfortunate," Mr. Abbott said, adding he's known Mr. James for 15 years.
"He is a man of impeccable character. He is not in any way a partisan. To suggest that somehow this is about politics is unfair and unfortunate."
Mr. Abbott declined to comment on the new rules, saying he couldn't speak to the position of Elections BC.