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November 27, 2010

Early HST Vote

It is not necessary to take six months and spend $30 million or more in order to conduct the HST initiative vote. According to Elections BC it cost $3 million to conduct the Treaty Negotiation Referendum in 2002. That referendum was run entirely with mail-in ballots, thus eliminating the need to rent space and to hire thousands of staff for polling stations.

The legislature's Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services met last week to hear presentations from some of the officers of the legislature on their budget requirements. During the course of the presentation from Elections BC, Chief Electoral Officer Craig James was asked about the costs and time requirement for the HST initiative vote. After saying that it could take six months to prepare for the vote, he said:

"The problem in answering the question accurately is that I don't know what the regulations are that would govern the conduct of an initiative vote, so I don't know how extensive that might be. A number of assumptions would be built into that answer."
"The other is that if the conduct of an initiative vote was a mail-in ballot, there would be far less time and far less cost associated with it, one would think."

No follow-up questions were directed to James from members of the committee about the option of using mail-in ballots. They have been used in BC for at least the last four general elections with no difficulties. The 2002 Treaty referendum was unique in relying solely on mail-in ballots. The question for that referendum was set by the legislature on March 15, voting took place between April 2 and May 15 and the results were known on July 3rd.

As for the regulations that Elections BC needs, the regulations that were used in 2002 are included as Appendix A in Election BC's report on that referendum. It wouldn't take more than a few minutes to update those regulations for a vote on the HST.

Using the Treaty Negotiation Referendum as a guide, the already determined question on extinguishing the HST could go out to voters within weeks of a new BC Liberal leader being chosen on February 26th, earlier if they overruled Campbell as they did with his unaffordable tax cut. The outcome of the vote could be known by the end of June, at a cost of less than a tenth of what a ballot-box vote would cost.

More money could be saved if Vander Zalm's forces were to agree to back off on starting any recall campaigns once an expedited vote is announced. This alternative could be a win-win for everyone, except possibly for supporters of the hated tax.

It would save even more money if the government simply announced that it too can read the polls and already knows what the outcome will be of any vote on getting rid of the tax. It could announce that it will eliminate the tax and it could get on with what will have to be done as a result. Of course, big business friends of the BC Liberals save an average of over $150 million per month as long as the HST is kept in place; perhaps that is why government won't rush to do what it will eventually be dragged into doing.