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B.C. chief electoral officer Craig James says rancour over the HST and the petition to recall MLAs have led to 'vitriolic attacks' on his office. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
B.C. chief electoral officer Craig James says rancour over the HST and the petition to recall MLAs have led to 'vitriolic attacks' on his office. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

B.C. elections chief under fire for delayed ruling on anti-HST petition Add to ...

British Columbia's Chief Electoral Officer says he has been the target of "vitriolic attacks" over his decision to sit on the successful anti-HST petition, pending the outcome of a challenge that is before the courts this week.

In a letter Monday, Craig James, as acting head of the independent, non-partisan Elections BC, rejected assertions by the provincial New Democratic Party that he acted improperly and said he's been disturbed by the public reaction to his decision.

Mr. James appealed for calm, predicting the court challenge will not result in a lengthy delay in the next stage of the citizens' initiative.

He was responding to a complaint from NDP critic Leonard Krog, who argues that Elections BC should forward the petition to the all-party legislative committee that must now decide how to act on the wishes of more than 700,000 British Columbians who called for the tax to be repealed.

In his most explicit explanation to date regarding his decision, Mr. James wrote that he cannot refer what the courts may determine is a "fatally flawed" petition on the tax to a legislative committee.

To forward the petition while its legitimacy is being examined by the courts "would demonstrate a level of disrespect that would be unbecoming of my office," he wrote.

Mr. James added: "I … must thank you for the respectful nature of your letter as I have been frankly saddened by the vitriolic attacks that I and my office have been subjected to during the past week."

In an interview, Mr. Krog maintained the petition, which is the first in B.C. history to successfully meet the requirements of the Initiative and Recall Act, should have been delivered to the committee by now.

"There are no ifs, ands or buts - the Chief Electoral Officer must submit it to the committee," he said.

The delay triggered by the legal challenge mounted by the B.C. business community - and a counter action by the proponent of the petition, former premier Bill Vander Zalm - has cranked up the heat on B.C. Liberal MLAs who now fear they will be subject to recall campaigns.

John Slater, Liberal MLA for Boundary-Similkameen, is part of the legislative committee that will decide whether the citizen initiative should be put to a referendum or a vote of the legislature.

"We're hopeful it won't be long, because it hangs out there, it festers," he said. Mr. Slater is one of the most vulnerable targets of a recall campaign in the province - there was strong support for the anti-HST petition in his riding and he won the seat with just 37 per cent of the popular vote.

In the Cariboo-Chilcotin riding, where Liberal Donna Barnett won by a margin of just 88 votes, petition organizers are already gearing up for a recall campaign. Former NDP MLA Charlie Wyse, who lost to Ms. Barnett, said the appeal for recall volunteers has attracted people who weren't willing to get involved in the HST petition.

"The delay has rekindled interests and frustration and anger with the HST," he noted. "I have been surprised by the large number of new people stepping forward willing to work on recall.

"I will be very surprised if there is no recall here in this riding."

The Liberal government, in its third consecutive term of office, has suffered an unprecedented loss of popular support since the decision to adopt the HST was announced shortly after the last provincial election.

Finance Minister Colin Hansen, who earlier predicted that consumer fury would abate once the tax was in place, said on Monday his government's opponents are still keeping that anger stoked.

"There is still a level of frustration there. There are still people who have a political agenda and they'll continue to ride that for all they can," he said.

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