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Key Aide to Gordon Campbell Helped Craft Mail-in HST Referendum

FOI documents reveal former lobbyist, pro-HST spinner Tom Syer was in the loop.

By Bob Mackin 23 Jul 2011 | TheTyee.ca

Bob Mackin is a Vancouver-based freelance reporter who regularly contributes to The Tyee.

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Former BC premier Gordon Campbell pitching HST before resignation.

What is the real reason that the British Columbia Liberal government scrapped the planned Sept. 24, 2011 election-style referendum on the Harmonized Sales Tax and employ a mail-in ballot system?

Attorney General Barry Penner said on March 25, 2011 that moving the referendum ahead and employing a mail-in ballot "was expected to" save taxpayers $18 million and reduce voter fatigue. 

Who could argue with saving taxpayers money or making democracy swift and fair? 

My curiosity was piqued. I wanted to see proof. I wanted answers.

What was the methodology for the alleged $18 million savings? What proof was there that voter fatigue would hinder citizen participation in the HST referendum? Did politicians and staff do their homework and know about the potential impact of a Canada Post strike or lockout on a mail-in ballot? 

The same day it was announced, I filed a Freedom of Information request with the Office of the Premier, Ministry of Attorney General and Public Affairs Bureau for the communications plan announcement of the HST referendum process, including the briefing notes for Attorney General Barry Penner and Premier Christy Clark; cost-benefit analysis or business case for a mail-in ballot vs. general election-style balloting. 

After several delays by the government, I finally received the documents on July 22, 2011 -- which just so happens to be the last day for citizens to request a ballot to either vote yes to extinguish the HST or no to keep it. A coincidence? I think not. 

See the documents at the bottom of my blog post here.

HST Information Office's slanted info

Whatever Deputy Attorney General David Loukidelis recommended was censored. 

However, the documents do show that a key aide to the father of the HST, Gordon Campbell, had a hand in crafting the mail-in referendum. This suggests that the government is engineering the process to reach the outcome it wants: to keep the HST. 

An email sent March 9, 2011 by Loukidelis to Penner said the report to the March 16, 2011 cabinet meeting "has been developed with commentary from Tom Syer along the way."

Who is Tom Syer and who did Syer call sire? 

Syer was Campbell's deputy chief of staff who, after a stint as a lobbyist, returned to government to head the HST Information Office that was announced Oct. 25, 2010 -- two days before Campbell spent $240,000 of taxpayers funds to buy TV airtime on Oct. 27, 2010 for a televised speech intended to boost the HST.

The HST Information Office was supposed to inform, not persuade. Its website includes news releases with headlines such as: "Harmonized Sales Tax To Boost Investment, Job Creation," "HST, The Right Move at the Right Time," and "Look Who's Backing the HST." It's spending $5 million on the famous stickman TV ads.

I ask again: Is the mail-in ballot system engineered by the government to convince you to agree to keep the HST? 

Is this exercise in democracy really just an expensive sham?

Why the secrecy, Mr. Penner? Why the secrecy, Ms. Clark?   [Tyee]

Read more: Politics

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