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BC government will respect HST vote, but won't give refunds: Hansen

The British Columbia government is committed to acting on the result of a province-wide vote on repealing the HST, finance minister Colin Hansen said today.

The Recall and Initiative Act says the measure needs the support of 50 percent of registered voters—everyone on the voters list, not just those who vote—plus a majority of registered voters in two-thirds of the province's 85 constituencies.

Premier Gordon Cambpell said yesterday that his personal view is the government should repeal the HST if that's the will of a simple majority of the people who turn out to vote. The vote will be held on Sept. 24, 2011.

“This is a commitment by the government,” said Hansen, responding to questions after presenting the province's fiscal update for the first quarter. “It is a commitment the premier has made on behalf of government.”

Hansen said he supports the decision. “I think this is one of those areas where we need to respect the wishes of the public.”

The government will, however, develop an advertising strategy to try and make the case for the HST so people can vote based on clear information, he said.

Nor is the government likely to pass the HST Extinguishment Act, with its promise of refunds to people who've been paying the tax, as an initiative petition fronted by former premier Bill Vander Zalm demands, Hansen said.

“In my opinion it would not be responsible for any government or any legislature to pass the HST Extinguishment Act as it's currently written,” he said.

Breaking the HST agreement will mean returning $1.6 billion in transition payments to the federal government.

As it happens, thanks mainly to corporate revenues that were underestimated in last February's budget for 2010-2011, the quarterly update said there is an unallocated $2.1 billion available over the next three years that could also be applied to new spending, putting money back in British Columbian's pockets or reducing the deficit.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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