Elections BC rejected a Fight HST recall application as too lengthy – but did so using rules that were drafted after it received the application.
New Democrat leader Carole James says Elections BC "mishandled" the situation.
At a news conference Friday morning in downtown Vancouver, Ms. James said the elections office should have worked with Fight HST organizers, instead of rejecting their application outright.
"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 did not join Fight HST's calls for chief electoral officer Craig James to step down. She also side-stepped a question about whether the non-partisan elected office made a partisan decision.
"I believe there's a problem with the way this was handled and I expect it to be fixed," she said without elaborating.
A spokesman for Premier Gordon Campbell said the Liberal leader was unavailable for comment.
The rejection has led recall organizers to suggest the province's chief electoral officer deliberately thwarted their attempt to get approval to launch a petition to oust a Liberal MLA who supported the harmonized sales tax, and should step down.
While Elections BC has defended its new rules – which pushed the Fight HST application over a 200-word limit by counting the acronyms MLA and HST as eight words instead of two – recall organizers expressed concern that they were not included in the application form when they downloaded it from Elections BC's website.
"It's a total joke. This is the kind of thing they do in banana republics ... when they don't want to have elections or they don't want people to win. And we're doing it right here in Canada," said Chris Delaney, an organizer of the Fight HST campaign.
Mr. Delaney made the comments on Thursday after learning Elections BC had rejected Fight HST's application for a recall in the suburban Victoria riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head. Universities Minister Ida Chong is the first target of anti-HST activists' campaign of recalls against Liberal members of the legislature.
Mr. Delaney said organizers were never told MLA and HST (harmonized sales tax) each counted as more than one word.
Fight HST submitted its application on Monday. The document outlining the changes was uploaded to the Elections BC website on Wednesday afternoon. A cached view of the site shows it wasn't part of the recall petition application package as recently as Tuesday.
Elections BC said Craig James, the province's chief electoral officer, was unavailable for comment on Thursday. But a spokeswoman said Fight HST organizers were told after the application was rejected that the new rules would be put on the website this week.
When asked why organizers wouldn't be made aware of the new rules until after their application was submitted, she said: "Before the application had been submitted, there had been no need for a policy. No recall application in the past had ever come close to the 200-word limit. It hadn't been an issue."
When asked if an unforeseen problem could arise when Fight HST resubmits its application, the spokeswoman said Elections BC follows provincial legislation in all its decisions. She declined to comment on whether instituting such rules after the fact reflects negatively on the non-partisan, independent office.
Bill Vander Zalm, a former B.C. premier and leader of the Fight HST movement, called on Mr. James to step down as a result of the decision.
"If there were restrictions on acronyms, that information should have been given to the applicants at the time they were handed their application," Mr. Vander Zalm said in a written statement.
"But it wasn't, because Craig James obviously made it up [on Wednesday]when he decided this would be another way ... to sabotage the recall petition."
Mr. Delaney said the application was resubmitted on Thursday, but more than 150 canvasser applications also likely will have be redone because they have the same wording as the original application.
B.C.'s Liberal government announced the harmonized sales tax in 2009. Fight HST collected hundreds of thousands of signatures, forcing the issue to be decided by referendum. That vote will be held next year.
This isn't the first time Fight HST organizers have clashed with Mr. James, who was appointed by Premier Gordon Campbell. Earlier this month, Elections BC sent out reprimands to 2,208 voters who signed a petition calling for a referendum on the HST more than once. The petition generated more than 500,000 valid signatures.
Anti-HST organizers have also complained the September, 2011, referendum date is too far in the future.
From Globe British Columbia Editor Patrick Brethour
What do you think?
Those four words are becoming increasingly important in the Globe newsroom, as the BC bureau's experience Thursday with the HST recall application story demonstrated in striking terms – a great example of how our readers gave us an valuable lead in developing a breaking news story.
Courtesy of the Canadian Press, we had a story online pointing out that Elections BC had denied the Fight HST recall application because it was over the 200-word limit. Every news organization in Canada had that story as well. But then our BC online editor, Fiona Morrow, noticed this comment posted on the CP story.
logitack 12:25 PM on November 25, 2010 "It is interesting how Craig, CEO of electionsbc, has conveniently created documentation in support of his decision to deny the application. The pdf file from the electionbc web site called, Number of words in proponent statement, http://www.elections.bc.ca/docs/rcl/Word-Count-Proponent-Statement.pdf has a creation date of November 24, 2010 at 2:50:12. If you look at the index file, http://www.elections.bc.ca/docs/rcl/ the creation date is also 24-nov-2010 at 16:51. Makes you go, hmmmmmm.."
It made us go hmmmmm, too. Reporter Sunny Dhillon took this lead and developed it, resulting in a story that laid bare what had happened: Elections BC rejected the application as too lengthy – using rules that were drafted after it received the application. The result was an important (and exclusive) news story, one that would not have been possible without that initial smart question from logitack.