Not any more

B.C. Premier Campbell refuses to resign or replace finance minister over HST

In Canada on September 8, 2010 at 19:14

VICTORIA – B.C. premier Gordon Campbell says he has no plans to resign, or replace finance minister Colin Hansen, over the government’s handling of the unpopular Harmonized Sales Tax, despite recent calls from critics that both men should lose their jobs.

In an interview Wednesday, Campbell said he returned from a European vacation with his wife Tuesday evening with a new sense of purpose as premier.

“One of the things about going on vacation is you come back revitalized and excited by the opportunities the job represents,” he said. “I’m pleased to be back. I feel revitalized and I’m ready to go.”

Campbell brushed aside calls from some former Liberal party insiders, and the Opposition NDP, that he step aside for the good of the party in the wake of plummeting poll numbers and intense public anger at his government’s handling of the HST.

“I don’t think anyone would ever suggest I was a quitter,” he said.

Campbell insisted he still enjoys the full confidence of his cabinet, caucus and Liberal party membership.

“You can’t lead if you don’t have strong support of those who got you here. And I’m totally aware of that. I’m actually very encouraged by the support I’ve had over the last number of months. I think the caucus has been great through some very challenging times.

“As a government we are doing well. I think we’re facing a pretty challenging political agenda right now from a lot of people but we’re going to have to work our way through it.”

Campbell also defended his embattled finance minister, who spent last week trying to defend the Liberal government’s timeline for adopting the HST in 2009.

The premier said he is “absolutely not” planning a cabinet shuffle to replace Hansen. “I think Colin Hansen has done a great job for us,” he said.

Both Hansen and Campbell have insisted the HST was not on their radar prior to the May 2009 provincial election campaign. However, two months after winning re-election, the Liberal government abruptly signed an HST deal with Ottawa.

Documents released under a Freedom of Information request last week showed senior B.C. finance officials began asking Ottawa questions about the HST almost two months prior to the 2009 election and passed a briefing note to Hansen about the issue in March 2009.

Hansen said the discussion between bureaucrats and Ottawa was routine and he does not recall reading the briefing note in detail. However, critics, including some public administration experts, said it was unlikely the finance minister was not briefed by senior officials that staff were discussing tax policy with Ottawa.

“I really don’t think the documents that came out last week suggested anything that hadn’t been said before,” said Campbell.

“We’ve been talking about HST, and officials have been talking about the HST with people in Ottawa since the 1990s. I was leader of the opposition when I was first asked about adopting the HST for British Columbia. The fact of the matter is, it was not on our agenda in 2009, it wasn’t something we considered prior to the election. It wasn’t until after the election that it was something that was put on the agenda. And we put it on the agenda because we were in really challenging economic times.”

Meanwhile, a legislative committee has voted to wait until Monday before deciding the fate of provincial legislation that could cancel the harmonized sales tax.

The bipartisan committee has the option of either referring the bill to the Legislature for a vote, or holding an initiative vote — a process similar to a referendum — on the issue next September. It must decide within at least the next 90 days.

The bill in question — the HST Extinguishment Act — came to the committee after a province wide anti-HST petition process, organized by former premier Bill Vander Zalm.

On Wednesday, New Democratic Party members of the committee tried to immediately refer the bill to the Legislature but were denied in a 5-4 vote by the Liberal majority, which voted to delay such a decision.

Both sides eventually agreed to reconvene Monday, when the chief electoral officer will be asked to come and answer questions on a possible initiative vote.

It is not clear if the committee will make its final decision at that meeting.

The Liberal-dominated committee must, under law, decide whether the successful petition’s draft bill to repeal the HST should go to a vote in the legislature or a non-binding provincewide referendum in late 2011.

Campbell said he has not instructed the Liberal MLAs on the committee how to act, and expects them to present the issue to the Liberal caucus for discussion.

“I’m not going to be telling them anything, I’m going to be asking them. Our caucus is going to be asking them questions and they’ll decide the direction they are going to go.”

rfshaw@tc.canwest.com

with files from the Vancouver Sun

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

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