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Former premier to rally HST detractors in Sea to Sky

Events planned in Whistler and Pemberton Saturday



Former B.C. Premier Bill Vander Zalm wants to be at home tending to his many plants but not until he eradicates what he sees as B.C.'s latest tax scourge.

Often called the "Gardener Politician" because of his green thumb, Vander Zalm came out of retirement, and his garden, to take up the fight against the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). He's bringing that fight to the Sea to Sky corridor this weekend.

"I'm hoping that Mr. Campbell or Mr. Hansen or both will walk into the House and say 'we've listened to the people, we're canceling (the HST),'" said Vander Zalm, 75, from the road this week.

"That way I can go back to caring for my plants. That's what I want to do now."

Vander Zalm's fight against the HST is fast gaining steam as the Fight HST group moves across the province. More than 300,000 people have signed the petition to date.

"It's phenomenal," said Vander Zalm, who said the Fight HST organization was in the Cariboo this week.

"Wherever we've been and we've presented the HST message from the Fight HST perspective we've had an enormous response.

"It's not only the tax that people are concerned about. They're concerned about the fact that they were promised there wouldn't be a tax, at least that's the impression."

Whistler is a key area, he added.

"I think Whistler is still one of the areas where we're a bit soft so we want to get that whole West Van and beyond area over the top very quickly," he said.

Legislation enacting the HST, which effectively combines the seven per cent provincial sales tax with the five per cent GST, was passed by the federal government last year. Late last month the provincial government passed legislation that repeals the provincial sales tax. The HST comes into full effect July 1.

On the one hand, the combined tax is touted to add transparency to a complicated tax system and lower costs for businesses. On the other hand, some goods and services like ski tickets and other tourism related products that were exempt from PST will now cost consumers more with the combined tax.

That's why Chris Quinlan is planning on attending the Whistler rally.

He's president of the Restaurant Association of Whistler, a group concerned that the new tax will raise the price of meals, which is only now subject to GST, and that added cost will be passed on to customers. And raising prices, said Quinlan, is not good for business.

"(The HST) is the worst thing for us," he said.

Larry Falcon, who works at Wild Willies, is also speaking out against the tax and has started a petition at the store. In the last week he has collected about 300 signatures and he expects there to be a good turnout at Saturday's rally.

"All of sudden... everything is going to increase and here we are based on tourism in town and that's a hefty increase," said Falcon.

Fight HST's goal is to get signatures from 15 per cent of voters in each of B.C.'s 85 ridings. That's over the 10 per cent threshold mandated by Elections B.C. to force a referendum on the issue. To date, Fight HST has achieved its goal in 17 ridings.

The Whistler rally, with Bill Vander Zalm will take place on Saturday, May 8 from 7-10 p.m. at the Whistler Secondary School.

He will be at the Meadows Community Centre in Pemberton at 1 p.m. on the same day.



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