VICTORIA, B.C. - The B.C. Liberals say they're determined to make their controversial harmonized sales tax law this week, despite the thousands of British Columbians who have already signed a petition to repeal the tax.
The Liberals said Monday they knew the HST would not be popular, but they remain convinced it will help British Columbia's economy by cutting business costs, creating jobs and stimulating investments.
The HST, introduced last July, will combine the current seven-per cent provincial sales tax with the five-per cent federal Goods and Services Tax, creating a 12-per cent HST.
"We knew when we were making the decision that this was going to be politically very difficult even though it is the right economic policy, and it's the right public policy," said Finance Minister Colin Hansen.
"But there's times when in government you have to do things that maybe are more difficult and challenging politically, but they're still the right thing to do."
The federal government offered British Columbia $1.6 billion over three years to switch to the HST.
Beginning July 1, B.C. and Ontario plan to join the Atlantic provinces, which already have an HST.
Liberal House Leader Mike de Jong said the government will vote on the tax legislation this week to ensure regulations relating to the tax are in place for July.
He said the Liberals are prepared to use legislative force to ensure a vote this week, but he did not say they would evoke closure, which would force an to end debate in the legislature.
"Actually, I think people deserve to see their members vote on this," de Jong said.
The HST has dominated political and public debate in British Columbia since last July, when the Liberals announced they were prepared to harmonize the provincial sales tax with the federal GST.
The announcement came about two months after the Liberals were re-elected to their third consecutive mandate.
The possibility of an HST was not an election issue, leading to post-election accusations by the Opposition New Democrats that the Liberals were quietly planning to introduce the tax right after last May's vote.
Hansen said earlier that the government did not decide to pursue the HST until after the election when it realized the province's tax and resource revenues had plummeted.
Federal documents obtained under Access to Information show B.C. government bureaucrats contacted federal finance bureaucrats about the tax on May 15, three days after the election.
NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth said the Opposition will use whatever legislative tactics it can to prevent the HST from becoming law.
"Pigs will fly before we assist this government to try and pass this bill," he said.
Former Social Credit premier Bill Vander Zalm, who is organizing a grassroots campaign against the tax, said if the Liberals go ahead with the HST they will face the consequences in the next provincial election.
"We have a quiet revolution happening in this province and the Liberals are so out of touch they don't even see it happening," said Vander Zalm.
"The only way they can get back is to walk back into the house now and say 'we've listened to the people, we've changed our mind, we've cancelled the HST going forth."'
Vander Zalm's volunteer-run HST repeal petition has already received 145,000 signatures, he said. He needs the signatures of 10 per cent of the registered voters in each of the province's 85 ridings to be successful.
The former premier has until July to sign up the more than 300,000 voters.