British Columbia shuffles cabinet amid tax battle

Mon Oct 25, 2010 3:37pm EDT
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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell shuffled his provincial cabinet and appointed a new chief of staff on Monday as he struggles to revive his government's sagging political fortunes.

Finance Minister Colin Hansen kept his post, but will now also oversee the small business sector. As well, a new parliamentary secretary post was created to help the Finance Ministry promote the unpopular harmonized sales tax (HST).

Support for the province's right-of-center Liberal Party has plummeted since it agreed with Ottawa last year to create the 12 percent HST by merging the 7 percent provincial sales tax with the 5 percent federal goods and services tax.

The government says the change was needed to keep British Columbia companies competitive with rivals in other provinces that already have the HST. But opponents say it just shifted more of a tax burden to consumers and small businesses.

Campbell, who has only 9 percent public support according to a poll this month, has said his government did a poor job explaining the HST to the public.

Voters will decide in a September referendum whether to repeal the tax, and HST opponents have launched recall initiatives against several Liberal legislators. The next provincial election is scheduled for 2014.

Campbell replaced his long-time chief of staff Martyn Brown with Paul Taylor, a former chief executive Insurance Corp of British Columbia, the provincials auto insurance agency. Brown was given a different provincial government job.

(Reporting Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)