HST town halls draw thousands

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon

The B.C. government says 27,000 people stayed on the phone for the first of Finance Minister Kevin Falcon’s harmonized sales tax “town halls” in Surrey Wednesday night.

Another 5,900 people in the Peace River region responded to the recorded invitation to hear local MLA Blair Lekstrom defend the HST, and explain why he returned to the B.C. Liberal cabinet after quitting last year in the face of a taxpayer revolt.

The regional telephone conference calls are to continue in the next week, calling listed home phones in each region for an hour-long question and answer session on the tax, and what happens if voters reject it in a mail-in ballot in June.

Lekstrom was asked about the impact of HST on farmers and oil and gas workers in northeastern B.C., and whether the government would abide by the results of the referendum. One caller referred to it as the “ripoff tax,” and others said the region is losing even more business as people head for the Alberta border to shop for goods and services.

Lekstrom said the HST is no more of a burden in the north because it doesn’t increase heating or fuel costs beyond existing carbon tax and other levies. And he promised the government would accept a simple majority vote to restore the old provincial sales tax without expanding its base.

“If this vote is to reject the HST and go back, we are going back to the way it was,” he said.

Both Lekstrom and Falcon have left the door open to making the HST more palatable with further exemptions, or reducing the rate once the agreement with Ottawa allows it. But Lekstrom noted that reducing the provincial share of the HST from seven to six per cent would cost the treasury $800 million, and the budget is already in deficit.

The regional conference calls included two survey questions, where participants could choose between four options by pressing different numbers. One referred to the rising revenues projected from the HST, asking if they should be used to pay down debt, increase services or cut other taxes.

The other asked how the province should raise the money to undo the HST and repay the federal government.

One participant called for more telephone town halls on public issues. “It would make us feel a little bit less like peons at the bottom of a large government,” she said.

Town hall meetings for the Kootenay region and in Richmond-South Delta-North Shore were to be held tonight, but have been rescheduled to avoid Vancouver Canucks playoff games.

A new schedule is expected today and will be posted here when it is available.

Just Posted

As a former reporter and editor at the Tribune, Diana French carries on sharing her ideas through her weekly column. (Photo submitted)
FRENCH CONNECTION: Cheering on the Habs

Many westerners were biased against French Canadians years ago

Email letters to editor@wltribune.com
LETTERS: Congratulations to Romeros on JUNO Award win

Fame has not made them more aloof, as it does to some

Jim Hilton pens a column on forestry each week for the Williams Lake Tribune.
FOREST INK: Agroforestry alternative to some commercial forest practices

We do need to seriously look at some of our practices

2021 graduate Annaliese Hunt-Owega with Burton Astleford in advance of the Reverse Grad Parade held Saturday, June 12 in Williams Lake. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Jenna Harvey. (Photo submitted)
RCMP looking for missing woman between 100 Mile House and Williams Lake

Jenna Harvey was last heard from a week ago and claimed to be hitchhiking north

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Most Read