Friday, August 26, 2011

Referendum to abolish HST passes in BC

Click to enlarge. Outline by S. Smith.
The results are finally in from the HST referendum in British Columbia. And the result is a "yes" victory for abolishing the unpopular Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) brought in by the Gordon Campbell government in 2009.

Last year, Elections BC approved a petition started by former Premier Bill Vander Zalm to have a referendum on the HST. The HST was seen by many economists as a good idea that will save the government money. Opponents saw it as a sneaky tax grab that was not promised by the Campbell government. At the depths of his popularity, Campbell resigned over the issue and was replaced by Christy Clark in the Premier's chair.

The referendum was conducted using mail-in ballots this summer, from June 13 to August 5. It took Elections BC 21 days to compile the results. The question on the ballot read:
"Are you in favour of extinguishing the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) and reinstating the PST (Provincial Sales Tax) in conjuction with the GST (Goods and Services Tax)?"
The BC Liberals were obviously against abolishing the HST, while the opposition NDP was in favour. However, opposition came from anti-tax conservatives as well, including Vander Zalm, who was the leader of the Social Credit Party, a now defunct conservative party in the province.

In a wave of populist disconent, BC voters voted to abolish the HST:

Total votes

Not a single riding that went NDP in the 2009 provincial election voted against abolishing the HST. In addition, nearly half of 2009 Liberal ridings voted to abolish it.

2009 winner
Yes ridings
No ridings
BC Liberals

The results were for the most part split upon class lines, with wealthier areas such as North Vancouver voting heavily against extinguishing the HST while more working class areas like in North Surrey and East Vancouver voting in favour of the measure.

Sign in favour of extinguishing the HST

More populist conservative areas that usually vote heavily Liberal in provincial elections also voted Yes, like in the Peace River region and in Richmond.

And now, the BC government has the difficult task of undoing what was alread done. They have set the time table to abolish it by 2013, just before the next election is scheduled. However, there is some speculation that Premier Clark might drop the writs as early as this Fall, which could be political suicide considering the huge defeat that this is for her governing Liberal party. However, critics suggest her party now has no legitimacy. And now, the federal Conservatives want the money back that they gave to BC to help them implement the HST. The provincial NDP has come out against this. It will be interesting to see how politics in BC will go over the next few months.

On a completely unrelated note, I just wanted to pay my respects to Jack Layton who passed away on Monday. I had the good fortune of meeting him three times. It was quite a sad week for me, as the NDP has been the party I personally support.  May you rest in peace, Jack.


  1. This is a very interesting post, Earl. Can we have provincial and territorial referendums like this in the rest of Canada or is this unique to BC? Was the referendum approved because of who started it or can any citizen start one?

  2. We can have referendums elsewhere, but not by petition like in BC. It's quite American, actually. I think any citizen can start a petition, given a certian amount of signatures.

  3. Earl, what would you know about something that's "Quite American" ? Have you lived in the US? Are you assuming this is "Quite American" or could it be "Quite Something Else" as well. What about "Quite Australian" or "Quite European". How would you know the difference?

  4. I think in Canada were taxed enough. The problem is once a new tax is put in place. It's never taken away.