HST town halls draw thousands

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon

The B.C. government says 27,000 people stayed on the phone for the first of Finance Minister Kevin Falcon’s harmonized sales tax “town halls” in Surrey Wednesday night.

Another 5,900 people in the Peace River region responded to the recorded invitation to hear local MLA Blair Lekstrom defend the HST, and explain why he returned to the B.C. Liberal cabinet after quitting last year in the face of a taxpayer revolt.

The regional telephone conference calls are to continue in the next week, calling listed home phones in each region for an hour-long question and answer session on the tax, and what happens if voters reject it in a mail-in ballot in June.

Lekstrom was asked about the impact of HST on farmers and oil and gas workers in northeastern B.C., and whether the government would abide by the results of the referendum. One caller referred to it as the “ripoff tax,” and others said the region is losing even more business as people head for the Alberta border to shop for goods and services.

Lekstrom said the HST is no more of a burden in the north because it doesn’t increase heating or fuel costs beyond existing carbon tax and other levies. And he promised the government would accept a simple majority vote to restore the old provincial sales tax without expanding its base.

“If this vote is to reject the HST and go back, we are going back to the way it was,” he said.

Both Lekstrom and Falcon have left the door open to making the HST more palatable with further exemptions, or reducing the rate once the agreement with Ottawa allows it. But Lekstrom noted that reducing the provincial share of the HST from seven to six per cent would cost the treasury $800 million, and the budget is already in deficit.

The regional conference calls included two survey questions, where participants could choose between four options by pressing different numbers. One referred to the rising revenues projected from the HST, asking if they should be used to pay down debt, increase services or cut other taxes.

The other asked how the province should raise the money to undo the HST and repay the federal government.

One participant called for more telephone town halls on public issues. “It would make us feel a little bit less like peons at the bottom of a large government,” she said.

Town hall meetings for the Kootenay region and in Richmond-South Delta-North Shore were to be held tonight, but have been rescheduled to avoid Vancouver Canucks playoff games.

A new schedule is expected today and will be posted here when it is available.

Just Posted

Vehicle catches fire near China Creek Marina

No injuries in blaze, according to witnesses

North Island College issues brief statement on bomb threat

Threat forced college to close all campuses for one day

Premier wades into fishery closure debate

John Horgan questions the federal government’s approach

France doubles up Croatia 4-2 to win World Cup

Played in Moscow Russia, latest Fifa World Cup marks the highest scoring final since 1966

Horse riders resurrect public riding ring near Port Alberni

Open house planned for July 22 so public can check out Beaver Creek facility

REPLAY: B.C.’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

VIDEO: Firefighters put out brush fire in Nanaimo

Fire broke out in the area of a new development under construction in East Wellington

Former NHL goalie Ray Emery drowns in Lake Ontario

Police say the 35-year-old’s death appears to be a ‘case of misadventure’

Air quality statement warns of smoky air for Kamloops area

Environment ministry says area on north side of Thompson River may be affected by wildfire smoke

Pussy Riot claims on-field protest at World Cup final

Russian protest group claimed responsibility after four people ran onto field in police uniforms

Fans party on Montreal streets after French World Cup win

To city is home to nearly 57,000 French nationals

B.C. VIEWS: Making private health care illegal again

Adrian Dix battles to maintain Cuba-style medical monopoly

Almost every part of Canada’s largest national park deteriorating: federal study

Drawing on decades of research — the report lists 50 pages of citations

Activists protest outside Kinder Morgan terminal in kayaks, canoes

Tsleil-Waututh elder Ta’ah Amy George led the water ceremony from a traditional Coast Salish canoe

Most Read