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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 Canadian Press

NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth doesn't know if it's an omen or not, but he was certainly shaken up before Wednesday's historic committee meeting to consider the province's first successful citizens' petition, a revolt against the HST.

There, on Mr. Farnworth's doorstep on Tuesday morning, was the long tail of a rat.

"I held it up. It was at least six inches long. I'm still traumatized," the veteran legislator said Tuesday.

Although Mr. Farnworth speculated his cat was more likely the culprit than an opponent sending him a grim warning to lay off the HST, he added: "This is politics. This is B.C. Strange things happen."

Whatever the message of the rat tail, very little is ordinary about Wednesday afternoon's first-ever meeting of the province's select standing committee on legislative initiatives.

After 16 years of dormancy, the obscure committee has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight on B.C.'s hottest political potato in years, the controversial harmonized sales tax and the successful citizens' petition to have it extinguished.

While the outnumbered NDP has experienced MLAs such as Mr. Farnworth and long-time incumbent Jenny Kwan on the 10-member committee, the Liberal contingent contains half a dozen backbenchers little known to the general public.

Ms. Kwan herself had to take a few minutes to name the six Liberals joining her on the committee. She got one of the names wrong.

If political savvy and procedural expertise become an issue, the NDP will have a big edge. However, both Mr. Farnworth and Ms. Kwan played down the importance of being able to run rings, logically, around their less seasoned opponents.

"It's quite straightforward," said Mr. Farnworth. "The committee is quite limited in what it can do."

According to the 1994 act that brought citizen petitions into play, the committee has only two options: pass the petition's proposed bill to kill the HST along to the legislature for further consideration, or submit the question to a provincewide referendum next fall.

Mr. Farnworth said he expects the head of the committee, Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Terry Lake, has already been given instructions from the premier's office on how to proceed. "It will have been spelled out for him: 'Here's where you're going.' "

As he headed to Victoria for Wednesday's precedent-setting session, Mr. Lake rejected Mr. Farnworth's allegation.

"It's fair to say that we want to represent the views of our caucus," he said, "but I can assure you the premier's office is not directing this at all."

He said he isn't too worried about the legislative experience of the committee's NDP members.

"I don't think Mike Farnworth has done an ovariohysterectomy on an overweight cocker spaniel, as I have," said Mr. Lake, a veterinarian.

The NDP is calling for the matter to be sent to the legislature as quickly as possible.

"Although I expect it will take more than one meeting for the committee to complete its work, British Columbians have waited a long time for the HST to be dealt with," said Ms. Kwan. "It's time to get to work and let democracy do its thing."

The petition calling for an end to the 12-per-cent HST was signed by more than half a million British Columbians, enough to bring it before the legislative committee for action.

Wednesday's meeting may be mostly procedural, with the pro forma election of a committee chair and vice-chair, followed by a review of the committee's terms of reference and the appropriate legislation.

Former premier William Vander Zalm, who spearheaded the anti-HST campaign, said he will not be in Victoria to observe the committee meeting.

"Until a few days ago, I didn't even know it was open to the public, and I've got something else to do," Mr. Vander Zalm said.

Mr. Farnworth, meanwhile, can barely contain his pleasure. "This is uncharted territory, and I think it's fascinating beyond belief. I'm actually quite excited by this."