'Plan B' ready if British Columbias kick HST to curb: Premier
Liberals have said budget would take a $3-billion hit if the tax is cancelled, but won't say how.
VICTORIA -- B.C. Premier Christy Clark says her government has a detailed plan to deal with getting rid of the harmonized sales tax if that's what British Columbians have voted to do.
The results of the referendum on the tax will be released Friday, Elections BC confirmed Wednesday. The agency had originally said it hoped to have the results available on or about Thursday.
Clark said her government will swiftly move to act on the decision, even if it means the government has to turn back the clock and recreate the provincial sales tax that was replaced by the HST two years ago.
"We've done a lot of thinking about our Plan B, and we've given it a great deal of effort, knowing that it may not be necessary but it's better to be prepared than not,'' Clark said.
"I know what Plan B will look like. If the HST is rejected, we're just going to get to work. We'll just roll up our sleeves and get down to work.''
She didn't provide any details of the plan.
It's the most direct the Liberals have been in confirming that bureaucrats have been working on what to do if the tax is to be dumped.
As recently as last week, officials in Finance Minister Kevin Falcon's office refused to say a Plan B even existed and what it could entail.
Falcon has said in the past the B.C. government is looking at a $3 billion budget hit -- which includes repaying Ottawa the $1.6 billion in incentive money it forwarded to implement the tax -- if voters get rid of the combined tax.
The net impact of a dropped HST would be an immediate increase in next year's projected budget deficit to $2.56 billion from $925 million. There would also be a further $42 million in debt interest costs.
That would inevitably mean cuts to government programs and a prolonged period of provincial deficits.
The provincial government has said keeping the tax is crucial to the province's economic future and in an effort to make it more palatable for voters, Clark has said the combined federal goods and services tax and former provincial sales tax will drop to 10 per cent from 12 by 2014.
Elections BC spokesman Don Main said Wednesday the results will be available Friday, likely in the morning.
He said there are no problems other than the vote counting process has taken a little longer than expected. The deadline for Elections BC to receive the mail-in ballots was Aug. 5.
The agency reported earlier that about 1.6 million people cast ballots in the HST referendum, about 52 per cent of eligible voters.
Main said there are size and counting differences when it comes to gathering the results of a mail-in referendum compared to what occurs on a provincial election night.
"In one night we have 37,000 people counting ballots all across the province, in various locations,'' Main said. "Whereas, this is bringing all of the ballots back to one location and having a group of people then do a verification (of voters and their signatures.)''
About 140 people were on hand to count and verify the HST ballots. On election nights, voters are verified at the polling booths before they vote.
A decision in the referendum has been eagerly anticipated for a year after the referendum was prompted by a successful petition drive that called for the repeal of the controversial tax, which was introduced in July 2009.