With just one weekend left to gather signatures on a petition to repeal the harmonized sales tax in B.C., organizers of the Fight HST campaign have identified their "hit list" of Liberal MLAs they may seek to fire through recall.
The list of 24 MLAs does not include Premier Gordon Campbell, whose Vancouver-Point Grey riding did not show overwhelming support for the anti-HST petition.
Instead, the campaign headed by former premier Bill Vander Zalm is threatening to target Liberal MLAs in constituencies where the anti-HST sentiment runs highest. In 10 ridings so far, the petition calling for the tax to be repealed has attracted more signatures than the Liberals won votes in the last election.
The petition, which currently has 670,000 signatures, will be delivered to Elections BC next week. If there are enough valid signatures - representing 10 per cent of eligible voters in each of the province's 85 ridings - the petition will pass.
But that doesn't mean the HST would be repealed. The Liberal government can either voting on the proposal in the legislature, or sending it to a non-binding referendum in the fall of 2011.
Mr. Vander Zalm said the province must voluntarily move to undo its agreement with Ottawa to harmonize its sales tax with the federal goods and services tax or Fight HST will start organizing recall campaigns to pick off MLAs one or two at a time.
He said canvassers are ready to move to the next phase. "We have 7,000 troops that want to carry on. We will accommodate them."
The province has had a recall law on the books for 14 years, but no MLA has been formally fired. The first opportunity to file a recall petition is on Nov. 15 - 18 months after the last provincial election - and organizers would then have 60 days to collect enough valid signatures to force a by-election.
The 24 MLAs on the Fight HST recall list include seven members of Mr. Campbell's cabinet. Notably absent, however, is Finance Minister Colin Hansen, the member of the government most responsible for introducing the HST. Mr. Hansen's Vancouver-Quilchena riding has shown tepid support for the petition.
The anti-tax crusaders have found richer territory in the north and the interior, and within the BC Liberals' few seats on Vancouver Island.
The B.C. government announced the shift to the HST last summer, just two months after the election. The new tax will blend the GST with the provincial sales tax for a single value-added tax of 12 per cent. The province agreed to the deal after Ottawa promised $1.6-billion in transfers, money that the province is using to reduce the deficit over three years. Although Ontario is moving to the HST at the same time, it has used its transfer cash to hand out rebate cheques to taxpayers.
In July, the B.C. government will send a leaflet to households explaining why it made the change. Mr. Hansen said in an interview this week that the ad campaign isn't going to be enough to make the tax popular, but he hopes it will help taxpayers understand why it is being done.
"I don't think we are ever going to get to the point where they like the HST," he said. "It's about talking about the broader economy."