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Referendum defeat puts end to HST

North Shore voters among few to buck provincial trend

B.C. voters have sent a message to the provincial government, voting to scrap the controversial Harmonized Sales Tax by almost 55 per cent, Elections B.C. announced Friday.

The announcement was a victory for anti-HST campaigners, who forced the government into holding a referendum on the tax and a sobering rejection of B.C.'s year-old HST regime.

"It was a kick in the head," said West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan soon after the results were announced Friday morning. "Probably the B.C. Liberals deserved it. British Columbia did not."

"Worldwide it's been demonstrated if you ask the general public 'Would you like a new tax?' you can always predict what the answer is going to be: 'Hell no'," he said.

Sultan added the result appeared to be an expression of the anger voters felt at the way the tax was introduced.

"The manner in which it was introduced by the B.C. Liberals was frankly awful, and we were punished as a result," he said.

Sultan's own riding - and those of the other three Liberal MLAs on the North Shore - were among the most notable exceptions to the province-wide result.

Voters in Sultan's West Vancouver-Capilano constituency cast ballots almost 65 per cent in favour of keeping the HST.

Voters in both North Vancouver-Seymour and West Vancouver-Sea-to-Sky were also more than 60 per cent in favour of keeping the tax, while a narrower majority - 52 per cent - voted to keep the HST in North Vancouver-Lonsdale.

"We have a relatively sophisticated group of voters here who understand the issues," said Sultan.

Eddie Petrossian, a local anti-HST campaigner, said he was "totally happy" with the result on Friday.

"The people at the end won out over a policy they felt was wrong," he said, although he noted the provincial result seemed to split along party lines.

Craig Keating, a City of North Vancouver councillor who was recently nominated as the NDP candidate for North Vancouver-Lonsdale, also described the vote as a message from voters on the way the tax was brought in.

"The government . . . never passed muster on the claim that (former Finance Minister) Colin Hansen and (former Premier) Gordon Campbell had no knowledge prior to the election that the HST was coming," said Keating.

"It just didn't meet the sniff test."

Keating added if voters had given the HST a thumbs up, it would have been "bad for democracy in the province."

On Friday, B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon indicated B.C. would now start the process of returning to the old Provincial Sales Tax system - expected to take 18 months.

That process is projected to cost about $3 billion, including a $1.6-billion transition payment that B.C. must now return to Ottawa.

Despite speculation, there was no word Friday on whether the HST results could move the government towards - or away from -a fall election.

Both Keating and Sultan said they were not keen to see that happen.

"I don't think there's a great appetite for it among my voters," said Sultan.

But, he added: "We've been told to get ready for an election for about four or five months," by Premier Christy Clark. "We're at a very high state of readiness."

Greg Lyle, a political strategist with Innovative Research Group, who has worked with the B.C. Liberal party, said the results could be used to argue for or against an election - in terms of a need to seek mandate or a need to continue with a steady hand on government. "Both points of view can be argued," he said.

"No one's every seen a referendum like this before," Added Lyle. "There's no established political wisdom on this."

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