Christy Clark “clarifies” position on HST referendum


B.C. Liberal leadership candidate Christy Clark continues to face questions about her controversial proposal to resolve the harmonized sales tax on the floor of the legislature as opposed to a referendum.


Clark raised the possibility at the Dec. 8 launch of her leadership bid, describing the HST as "fatally flawed from the outset" and saying the Liberals could "put the HST behind us" with a free vote on the floor of the legislature by the March 31 end of the current financial year.


But that provoked a lot of questions.


Was Clark trying to exclude the public from the process, by denying the electorate a say in a province wide vote scheduled for Sept 24 or (as some of the other Liberal leadership candidates would have it) June 24 ?


Plus there was the prospect that if Clark wins the leadership on Feb. 26 she'd not have a seat in the house (barring a quick byelection) by the time of the proposed free vote. So would she be expecting B.C. Liberal MLAs to do the dirty work of getting rid of the HST while she watched the show on television from the premier's office?


Clark, for her part, has attempted to clarify her position. The most recent instance was Saturday at a leadership forum in North Vancouver. Her answer is posted on You Tube under the heading of "Christy Clark clarifies position on HST referendum."


Here's what she said. I'll leave it to you to decide whether she clarified anything or only added to the confusion.


"What I said at the beginning was I want to put another option on the table for the HST in addition to the referendum.

"I mean we can go the referendum. But the other option that I want to put on the table is — if the thing is going down in flames — and the public opinion polls are pretty clear about that — why would we not considering bringing it to the legislature and letting MLAs have a vote on it?

"I mean we save 40 million dollars that could go to pay for special needs teachers and heart operations.

"If it is a done deal we might as well get MLAs in the legislature to say, 'listen, I’m here to listen to you and act on your behalf.'

"So that’s one of the options.

"But we have to have that discussion with the caucus because they are the ones that are going to be casting the votes.

"I don’t want to end up with a situation where we cancel the referendum and then we pass the HST in the legislature. I don’t think the public would accept that, if it looked like it was going down.

"So, now, but, of course you know we may get to the end of this process and it might look like the HST has a fighting chance of passing. My personal preference is that I hope that it does because I think the HST is a pretty good piece of economic policy.

"If we get there and it looks like it could pass at referendum and we are not, sort of, ignoring the obvious, well then we should let it go to referendum and let the people have their say on it.

"What I said at the very beginning and I know the media hasn’t been…hasn’t reported the nuances of it, is, you know, I think we should have those two options available to us and we should be having a dialogue about it.

"I know some people say, 'hey listen, I want my vote damn it it and don’t take that away from me.'

"Well that’s an expensive way — if 80 per cent of British Columbians want to go tell the government what we already know, it’s an expensive way to find that out, but I guess we can do it.”

So, as I read it, she'd look to the opinion polls.

If they suggest that the public is certain to defeat the HST in a referendum, then she'd prefer to save the estimated cost of a province wide vote and instead have MLAs kill the thing in the legislature.

But if the polls suggest public opinion is shifting in favour of the tax, then she'd stick with the referendum on the chance that a "pretty good piece of economic policy" survives the vote.

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