Both sides optimistic with HST voter turnout

Fans and critics of the harmonized sales tax are bolstered by voter turnout.

Fans and critics of the harmonized sales tax are bolstered by voter turnout.

About 1.6 million people cast ballots in the mail-in referendum on the future of the HST — or 52 per cent of all voters in B.C.

“Both sides in the issue will say it’s good for them and that they got their supporters out,” said Eric Foster, Vernon-Monashee MLA.

Foster wouldn’t speculate on the outcome of the referendum — results should be known by about Aug. 25 — but he is confident that the government’s implementation of the levy will be vindicated.

“I’m optimistic the HST will be saved and we’ll go on from there,” he said.

Foster admits he is somewhat surprised by the voter turnout.

“I thought it would have been a little higher than 52 per cent because it was in the papers and people were talking about it,” he said.

Voter participation in the 2009 provincial election was 55.14 per cent.

The most recent referendum in B.C. was in 2002 on treaty negotiations. There were 790,182 ballots then.

Members of the Fight HST organization believe voter turnout sends a message to the Liberal government.

“It tells us people were keenly interested in the issue and passionate about it,” organizer Chris Delaney told The Morning Star.

“It indicates that democracy is more robust. People want to participate.”

While the results won’t be known for almost two weeks, Fight HST is already declaring victory in its campaign to scrap the harmonized tax.

“Voter turnout will lend credibility to the results when we win,” said Delaney, who anticipates future governments will have to hold referendums more often.

“A precedent has been set. If government wants to expand the tax base, they have to go to the people.”

The recent postal strike forced Elections B.C. to extend the HST referendum dates for  requesting a voting package and submitting the ballot.

“Despite the extension adding approximately $500,000 to the cost of the referendum, I am pleased to report that our revised estimate as to the overall cost is $8.9 million, down from $12 million,” said Craig James, B.C.’s acting chief electoral officer.