New B.C. leaders prepare to face off

Premier Christy Clark hopes to take her seat in the B.C. legislature by the end of May.

VICTORIA – The B.C. legislature reconvenes on Wednesday for a month-long session that is expected to feature the debut of both NDP leader Adrian Dix and Premier Christy Clark.

Clark must first win a seat in a May 11 by-election in Vancouver-Point Grey, to fill the vacancy left by former premier Gordon Campbell. If she defeats NDP candidate David Eby, she would be able to take her seat on the B.C. Liberal front bench a few days before the spring session ends on June 2.

Clark has hinted at new family-friendly tax measures that could be tabled in the spring session. One of those could be a promised reduction in the rate of the harmonized sales tax, the fate of which will be decided in a mail-in referendum set for June and July.

Finance Minister Keven Falcon has launched a pre-referendum program that includes $500,000 to be split between pro-HST and anti-HST representatives, a household mail-out including arguments from both sides, and a series of public forums held at colleges and universities around B.C.

The government will also run an advertising campaign urging voters to keep the HST, thus avoiding costs in the billions to undo it and retaining sales tax rebates directed to low-income households.

The government plans to start sending out mail-in ballots in mid-June, and completed ballots must be received by Elections BC no later than July 22. It will be August before the results are known, and the government knows whether to keep the HST or negotiate an end to it with the federal government.

The B.C. Liberal government presented a status-quo budget in February, leaving a substantial portion of expected revenue unallocated. That budget must be debated and passed before the government’s spending authority runs out in July.

The government must also pass amendments to set up the mail-in HST referendum. An anti-HST petition organized by former premier Bill Vander Zalm last year calls on the government to either reinstate the former provincial sales tax and provide refunds on millions of transactions, or put the issue to the public in a vote.

Former finance minister Colin Hansen said it wouldn’t be possible to meet the demand in the original petition, and the Clark government has decided to take the vote over and do it by mail.

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