Tax policy in limbo in British Columbia as leader quits

Wed Dec 1, 2010 2:01pm EST
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - After nearly a decade of relative calm, the political scene on Canada's Pacific Coast has been thrown into turmoil by the resignation of Premier Gordon Campbell and a fight over taxes.

While polls indicate the Liberal government has regained some public support with Campbell's decision to quit, it faces the risks of a leadership race, recall campaigns and a referendum on unpopular tax changes.

Campbell has been premier for nine years and has a reputation as a somewhat autocratic leader. Observers expect a new style going forward for the right-of-center government.

"The major change will be to present the leader as a kinder, gentler person than Campbell," said Marjorie Griffin Cohen, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University.

The leadership vote is scheduled for February 26, and Campbell plans to remain as premier until a replacement is chosen. The Liberals have been in power since 2001 and the next provincial election is due in 2013.

Four Liberal legislators, Kevin Falcon, George Abbott, Michael de Jong and Moira Stilwell, have resigned from cabinet to run for the leadership. Christy Clark, a radio talk show host who previously served in government, is expected to run.

One policy that might change is the harmonized sales tax, created in a deal the province struck Ottawa last year to merge the provincial and federal sales taxes. The tax, which took effect July 1, is administered largely by Ottawa and applies to a more goods and services than the levy it replaced.

The province says the new tax regime helps companies cut costs and remain competitive with rivals in provinces that already have the tax. Opponents say it simply shifts more of the tax burden to consumers and small businesses.   Continued...