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BC releases draft of HST referendum vote question

By CO Staff @canadaone |

British Columbians who will be asked to vote whether they want to keep the HST next September now have a draft question to consider.

The proposed question as drafted by the acting chief electoral officer is:

Are you in favour of extinguishing the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) and reinstating the PST (Provincial Sales Tax) in conjunction with the GST (Goods and Services Tax)? Yes/No

For background information, here is a copy of the letter from Elections BC Acting Chief Electoral Officer Craig James to Attorney General Michael de Jong, QC.

November 10, 2010

Michael de Jong
Attorney General
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, British Columbia
V8V 1X4

Dear Minister de Jong:

Re: Initiative Vote - September 24, 2011: the Question

On February 4, 2010, the Chief Electoral Officer granted approval in principal to an initiative petition entitled "An initiative to end the harmonized sales tax (HST)". The purpose of the initiative petition was to gather the support of registered voters on a legislative proposal, or draft bill, entitled the "HST Extinguishment Act". On August 11, 2010, I determined that the petition had met the requirements of the Recall and Initiative Act, and on August 23, 2010, following the conclusion of a judicial review relating to certain challenges to the petition itself, I sent a copy of the petition to the Select Standing Committee on Legislative Initiatives which was required of me by the Act. The Select Standing Committee on Legislative Initiatives is charged with considering either that the draft Bill be brought before the House or to refer it to the Chief Electoral Officer to conduct an initiative vote. The Committee directed me to conduct an initiative vote.

During the sittings of the Select Standing Committee on Legislative Initiatives I was asked to respond to a number of questions Members posed about the conduct of an initiative vote and I took the opportunity to suggest that the Chief Electoral Officer prepare the "question" for the ballot. It was an idea that appealed to many and the result is that I am pleased to provide you with what I consider to be the most sensible question for the initiative vote scheduled for next year.

This brings me to the current stage of the process - drafting the initiative vote question. In drafting the question, I addressed several requirements. First, the initiative vote question must reflect the spirit and intent of the legislative proposal, which is at the heart of the entire initiative process. Second, the question must be simple, easy to understand and lead to a clear, "yes or no" answer. Another requirement was for me to consult with the government which I have done and continue to do in relation to the regulations governing the conduct of the initiative vote.

In point of fact, there are three parts to the draft Bill, all of which would be before the Legislative Assembly for consideration if the initiative vote is successful. The proposed Question encapsulates Part 1 and the essence of Part 2 of the draft Bill. Part 3 which deals with the reimbursement of excess taxes paid would become a matter for consideration only if the initiative vote on the proposed question succeeds. Therefore, in the interests of clarity and brevity I have elected to limit the subject matter of the initiative vote rather than proposing a three part question. This has been an overriding concern of mine which was to produce a Question that every eligible voter would immediately understand. It should be noted too, that it is not the Question that is brought before the House in the final instance, but the draft Bill itself, which may be subject to points of order, amendment or other procedural mechanisms available to all Members when bills make their way through their various stages.

Having now submitted the initiative vote question to you, I understand that it will be released publicly and that it will be laid before the Legislative Assembly for all Members to debate. This is an excellent idea which I endorse wholeheartedly. I appreciate too, that any consensus arising out of the debate in the House on this matter is not intended to be binding upon me regarding any proposed revisions to the initiative vote question. However, I will be listening carefully to the debate and the views that all Members express.

After reviewing referenda questions used throughout Canada and referenda and initiative questions placed on the ballots in Washington, Oregon and California, I have drafted the following question to be placed on the ballot of the initiative vote scheduled for September 24, 2011:

"Are you in favour of extinguishing the HST (Harmonized Sales Tax) and reinstating the PST (Provincial Sales Tax) in conjunction with the GST (Goods and Services Tax)?" Yes/No


Craig James
Acting Chief Electoral Officer
British Columbia

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