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B.C. to vote on HST in $30-million referendum

Local anti-HST organizer Eddie Petrossian carries a sign as he walks to meet former British Columbia premier Bill Vander Zalm before boarding a ferry in Tsawwassen, B.C., on Wednesday June 30, 2010, to deliver the anti-HST petition.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell says he will be bound by a referendum on the harmonized sales tax, which a legislative committee concluded today will be held one year from now.

"If a majority of British Columbians don't want to have an HST, there is not going to be an HST," he told reporters on Monday after a legislative committee voted to turn the thorny political question to a non-binding plebiscite.

Although the referendum law in B.C. requires a significantly high threshold to pass, Mr. Campbell said a simple majority of voters will have the power to force his government to back down on the controversial tax

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"If that takes place then its clear this was the wrong decision. I believe by next year it will be the right decision."

The committee heard earlier today that a provincewide referendum would cost $30 million.

It became clear as the meeting wore on that the Liberal majority would prefer a referendum, a position that prompted former premier Bill Vander Zalm to storm from the hearing room.

Mr. Vander Zalm is behind the petition that gathered more than half-a-million signatures, forcing the province to either hold a non-binding referendum or put the issue to a vote in the legislature.

Mr. Vander Zalm called the legislature a "crazy place" and said a referendum will be almost impossible to win because the threshold is so high.

The law requires a 50 per cent of registered voters cast ballots in favour of ditching the tax. That same threshold must be met in at least two-thirds of the province's 89 ridings.

He said his supporters will instead focus on recalling Liberal politicians.

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With files from The Canadian Press

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