While vetting continues on the petition against the harmonized sales tax, the parties in the legal fight over the contentious measure are scheduled to make a first appearance in B.C. Supreme Court on Aug. 16.
The court will take up the challenge filed by six business groups, seeking to negate the petition on grounds that the accompanying legislative initiative to “extinguish” the HST is legally flawed and unconstitutional.
It also will hear a counter argument from petition proponent Bill Vander Zalm that the tax itself is a “nullity” because it was never properly authorized by the provincial legislature.
In the first action, the respondents are Vander Zalm and Elections BC, the office having ruled that the proposed legislation was both legal and constitutional.
In the second action, the provincial government will defend the handling of the HST in the legislature. Ottawa will weigh in as an interested party as well since the ultimate authority for collecting the HST in B.C. is an amendment to the federal Excise Tax, enacted by Parliament.
Though the two actions were filed in the order set out above, lawyer Joe Arvay, acting for Vander Zalm, is expected to argue that the court should first rule on the validity of the tax. If the HST was never properly authorized, then the initiative to extinguish it would be beside the point.
A related concern involves the status of the petition itself pending the outcome of the court proceedings. Some of the B.C. Liberals have argued privately that the vetting process should be suspended for as long as it takes to resolve the issues raised by the six business groups. But there were no valid grounds for halting the process. The legal challenge is not focused on the petition, but rather on the accompanying legislative initiative. And whatever one thinks of the merits of the measure, folks signed the petition in good faith and are entitled to have their signatures verified.
Elections BC has proceeded with the verification process under the watchful eye of observers from the main political parties as well as from Vander Zalm’s organization, Fight HST BC.