VANCOUVER (Reuters) - British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, whose popularity has been battered by a new sales tax policy, announced his resignation on Wednesday saying he had become a distraction for the government.
"It is time for a new person to lead the province," Campbell told a hastily called news conference in downtown Vancouver, saying his decision, which caught political observers off-guard, came after "considerable soul searching".
Campbell, the leader of the right-of-center provincial Liberal Party, said he has asked the party to pick a new leader as soon as possible. Party executives have 28 days to decide when and how a replacement for Campbell will be picked.
He delivered the announcement in a short statement, and did not take questions from reporters.
The resignation came less than a year after Campbell won re-election to a third term in office and only days after he shuffled his cabinet. He has been premier of Canada's West Coast province since 2001, but a recent poll found his voter support had dropped to just 9 percent.
Campbell angered voters immediately after last year's election when he announced the province had reached a deal with Ottawa to merge the provincial and federal sales taxes into a harmonized sales tax (HST) that applies to a broader range or purchases.
The premier said the tax change was needed to keep British Columbia's businesses competitive with those in provinces that already had the HST. But opponents of the tax said the change hurt consumers and small businesses.
Campbell said the debate over the tax and his low popularity were overshadowing the government's accomplishments and distracting voter attention from issues such as climate change and the economy.
Voters will decide in a September referendum whether to repeal the HST.
Provincial New Democratic Party leader Carole James said Campbell's leadership had been divisive for the province. She said her party was ready to face whoever the Liberals picked to replace him.
No candidates announced their interest in the job on Wednesday.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper thanked Campbell for his support during the economic downturn.
Reporting by Allan Dowd; writing by Allan Dowd and Nicole Mordant; editing by Peter Galloway