There’s no reason a legal challenge to the anti-HST petition will create a lengthy delay, says a member of the business coalition behind the move.
John Winter, president of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday coalition members won’t appeal a judge’s ruling if it goes against them.
The business group is challenging the validity of the petition, which gathered 700,000 signatures opposing the harmonized sales tax.
B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Baumann will preside over five days of hearings in Vancouver starting Monday. Whatever the judge decides will be taken as the definitive answer, Winter said.
“We will not appeal. What we are looking for is clarity. If the judge rules against us . . . then we will be more than happy to see (the petition) go forward,” Winter said.
“He’s the chief justice, we can trust him to do the right thing.”
Baumann will also hear former premier Bill Vander Zalm’s legal challenge of the HST itself, which was filed shortly after the business coalition launched its court action.
Vander Zalm’s argument will be heard first, followed by the business group. Winter said a quick decision from the court is likely.
“We asked for an expeditious hearing, I would expect we will get an expeditious ruling,” he said.
Winter said his association joined five other associations in filing the legal challenge in order to secure HST certainty in a politically tumultuous debate. He said the groundswell of opposition to the HST bore potential, in the short-term, to damage B.C.’s business interests.
“We want to make sure the HST remains in place . . . so the confusion and uncertainty around B.C.’s tax regime can be dealt with. Investors are not going to be anxious to be here under these conditions,” he said.
Peter Aylen, president of the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce, said his group supports the HST, as well as the decision of Elections B.C. to hold on to Vander Zalm’s successful anti-HST petition until court challenges are resolved.
Elections B.C. informed Vander Zalm Wednesday his petition was successful but would not be sent to government committee for further consideration until the court cases are done. A frustrated Vander Zalm said his teams will seek to recall MLAs across B.C. at the first chance.
But Aylen said it makes sense to wait for clarity from the courts before wasting people’s time.
“What’s the point in passing (the petition) further if the legislation attached to the petition isn’t valid,” he said. “If it is valid, they then will do what they must do.”
Aylen said the HST makes good business sense. The tax has been in place more than a month and already businesses are reaping benefits. Lower administration costs aside, many local companies he knows about have negotiated lower prices from suppliers because of the HST.
“The HST is a valid tax and it works very well. It’s what we ought to be doing,” he said. “It makes a lot of sense from a business point of view.”
Other city business leaders said they see the continuing fight against the HST as a clash of political ideology more than a battle against an unpopular tax.
While about 700,000 people signed anti-HST petitions across B.C. — including tens of thousands in Kamloops — people were largely stirred by anti-Liberal agendas, they say.
Peter Mutrie, the head of the North Shore Business Improvement Association, sees little HST discontent in the local business community.
“(The HST) is a good move from a business point of view. It makes a lot of sense for business,” he said. “It’s not been an issue for us.”
Political perceptions about how the Liberals introduced the tax, combined with Vander Zalm’s tireless efforts, have brought this debate where it is, he said.
“Mr. Vander Zalm has been very effective at creating controversy,” said Mutrie. “I’m not clear what (Vander Zalm’s) objectives are. Are they political? Are they real?
“The real story is in the long-term management of our economy,” he said. “(The HST) is a relevant, needed adaptation to our economic systems.”
Tina Lange, a business owner and city councillor, said the HST fight is purely political, driven by a man with a hidden agenda.
“(Vander Zalm) is a smart man. If he had done the homework most business people have done, he would not be leading this charge. I believe he is leading with a political agenda that will come out at some point.
“For some reason, he wants attention.”
Lange said her restaurant has not suffered an HST hit. In fact Hello Toast had record sales in July. If there will be any impact on the economy because of the HST, she expects it will be short lived.
“Life will go on. In the end, it will be a benefit. It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors by Vander Zalm,” she said.