HST gets ex-premier Vander Zalm hopping mad

Friday, July 31st, 2009

‘Short of a revolt, we certainly need to make a huge protest’

Katie Mercer

Former premier Bill Vander Zalm says he’s coming out of political retirement because he doesn’t mind ‘tackling issues.’ Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, The Province

One of B.C.’s feistiest former premiers is calling for a revolt against the Liberal government’s new harmonized sales tax.

Bill Vander Zalm — the defiant Dutchman who resigned as Socred premier in 1991 — says something needs to be done about the “$2-billion tax grab.”

And he’s willing to lead the charge.

“That’s why Bill Vander Zalm thought, ‘Well, if nobody else is going to bring this out, I’m going to have to step to the fore and do it anyways,'” the 75-year-old told The Province Thursday.

“I don’t want to get involved in politics, but I’m concerned about what’s happening to the province and I don’t mind tackling issues.”

Beginning next July, the seven-per-cent provincial sales tax and the five-per-cent goods and services tax will be merged into a 12-per-cent HST.

Previously PST-exempt items — restaurant meals, taxi fares, hydro and cable bills and more — will be seven per cent more expensive.

Vander Zalm says he’s irked that the Liberals broke their election promise to not introduce a new tax during an economic downturn. What’s worse, he says, is how they announced it.

It was hot and muggy last Thursday — the same day as commissioner Thomas Braidwood was grabbing headlines with his much-anticipated report on police use of Tasers — when the announcement was released.

Vander Zalm said it was a smart political move to effectively bury the story. The year-long delay before the tax is implemented will also help citizens to forget the issue, he added.

“It’s not a bad political move to do it this way, but we best be aware that it is a political move and we best act now,” Vander Zalm said.

“Short of a revolt, we certainly need to make a huge protest,” he said, imploring B.C. citizens to phone, write, organize demonstrations and put pressure on their MLAs. He can be reached at www.billvanderzalm.com.

Vander Zalm said the saddest part of the HST is that the poorest, who pay the most as a percentage of their income, will be hardest hit.

The move toward HST is contradictory, he said, as the government asks people to cut back on spending while taking more money from taxpayers.

Then there’s the economic impact, which will likely cause unemployment in industries such as tourism, homebuilding and restaurants, he said.

Vander Zalm said that none of his own, or his family’s, interests would be affected, and that was not the reason he was objecting.

Meanwhile, the Mining Association of British Columbia came out in support yesterday of the HST.

Association president and CEO Pierre Gratton said the new approach could lower operating costs that can then be reinvested in the province.

“When the mining sector is doing well, companies have money to invest in growth and that means new job creation,” Gratton said in a news release.

“This new tax structure will help attract investment into B.C. and help speed the way to economic recovery.”

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