Not any more

HST legal battle kicks off in Vancouver court

In Canada on August 16, 2010 at 18:53

VANCOUVER — The legal battle over the HST began in B.C. Supreme Court Monday with the declaration that “Revolutions have been fought over these issues.”

Representing opponents of the controversial blended federal-provincial levy, renowned Vancouver lawyer Joseph Arvay insisted that “democracy, federalism and the rule of law” were on the line.

He asked Chief Justice Robert Bauman to strike down the B.C. cabinet order-in-council that imposed the tax and the HST agreement between Ottawa and Victoria, and to let events unfold.

Arvay said it would take him at least two days to explain why the harmonized tax violates the Constitution and is an example of “taxation without representation” — the very spark for the American Revolution.

Lawyers for the provincial government and a group of industries supporting the HST said it should take another two days for them to present their arguments.

Arvay said such a tax cannot be imposed by the federal government alone without an accompanying B.C. law because the Constitution says provinces have the right to decide how they tax their citizens.

That’s why all other provinces with an HST have passed legislation enacting the levy, he told the judge.

The federal government provides a framework for collecting the tax, he added, but the responsibility for imposing the tax lies in Victoria.

The order-in-council and the agreement between the two governments is not enough, he explained.

Arvay continued, saying the Constitution also demands that any tax must be voted on by the legislature, not imposed by “the stroke of the minister’s pen in the privacy of his office.”

The 68-seat courtroom was standing room only, prompting the chief justice to arrange a larger venue for the afternoon.

A dozen or so miniature B.C. flags were left in a pile on the hallway floor or leaning against the wall, abandoned by opponents of the harmonized tax when told they couldn’t be taken inside the courtroom.

In the front row, the leader of the tax revolt, former premier Bill Vander Zalm, and his wife, Lillian, sat beaming.

Vander Zalm told reporters outside the court that in spite of his lawyer’s fiery rhetoric, he was not ready to take up arms.

“It’s been peaceful,” he said, with his trademark megawatt smile. “We’ve done it by the law all the way.”

Vander Zalm said the key point was that Victoria passed a law to repeal the old Provincial Sales Tax but never introduced legislation to enact the HST.

“I’m sure if the vote were held today,” he maintained, “it would be against the HST [in spite of their majority].”

Vander Zalm is challenging the constitutionality of the tax while a coalition of industry groups claims his 700,000-name anti-HST petition and its accompanying act should be declared invalid.

imulgrew@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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