by Brenda Stephenson
|Bill Vander Zalm with a group of FightHST petitioners in North Vancouver.
I was just going along with my friend to keep her company at a rally at Kitsilano High School. Admittedly when she mentioned that the HST would result in less money in my pocket, I paid attention. Historically I do not get involved with protests, being inclined to join a group of people who are “for” something, rather than “against” (see group photo opposite).
Former premier Bill Vander Zalm’s message had a clear ring of integrity and sincerity. I did not hear or feel an intention to “fight” or to “resist” anything. Rather he invited volunteers to come together to stop the implementation of a bad tax that would cause financial struggle for people already stretched beyond their limits.
I felt like he was speaking to me – a retired senior citizen on a very low fixed income. After the rally I happily signed the petition and eagerly registered to become a canvasser to collect signatures for the petition.
The following are a few of my personal experiences in the HST Initiative Petition campaign. Without a doubt, one of the most rewarding and liberating experiences in my life. What I learned from this intense and demanding project is more than I can write about here.
I feel very privileged to be a part of the first successful Citizens’ Initiative in British Columbia since it came into force in 1994. No other province in Canada has such referendum and recall legislation.
Thank you, Mr. Vander Zalm, for introducing this legislation when you were Premier allowing citizens of BC to exercise the democratic right to express their opinions about new legislation between elections, and to recall politicians who are not listening to their constituents.
The original Fight HST group headed up by Chris Delaney and Bill Vander Zalm created a highly motivated human organization to accommodate the desires of BC voters and send a clear message to the government – STOP THE HST NOW.
One highlight that impressed me in this province wide adventure was how eagerly individuals from all walks of life and all political parties joined together to generously and graciously volunteer their energy and valuable time for this worthy cause.
Strangely, Vancouver was the last area in BC to achieve their targets – I don’t know why – leave that to the strategists to figure out. What was so gratifying was that canvassers in nearby ridings spent time canvassing here until we met our targets.
They arrived in vans or cars in large groups; they came in pairs independently and canvassed on busy street corners. They joined our canvassers in the pouring rain at City Square collecting signatures until they were soaking wet, then, finally heading home for relaxing hot baths. Their generosity leaves me speechless.
Volunteers not eligible to sign the petition also helped. One, a 16 year-old Vancouver high school student assisted official canvassers in Point Grey. His job was to qualify people for eligibility to sign (they had to be on the Elections BC voters list), and then locate their ridings (each of the 85 ridings required a separate petition page to sign, maps were used to determine), which sped up the signing process. His motivation was to learn more about the BC electoral process and to gain experience as a volunteer for credits at school. He was thrilled to take part in such a significant history-making event.
Over 6,500 volunteers were approved by BC Elections as Canvassers to collect signatures for the petition. Some of those approved were invited to act as Regional Organizers and Team Captains to motivate and support the thousands of individual canvassers.
Together, with their impressive talents, expertise, perseverance, persistence, patience and sincere desire to exercise their democratic rights, they achieved incredible results.
They exceeded expectations and petition signature targets. First the BC Elections 10% required for every riding in the province, then the internal campaign’s 15%. On June 30 the fightHST petition was submitted to BC Elections. The results show many ridings exceeded 20% of the registered voters. This is a higher percentage of registered voters than many MLAs got elected with. This truly makes the fightHST petition a peoples’ democratic non-confidence “vote” against the Harmonizing Sales Tax. The hated HST has already caused massive Disharmony.
More campaign highlights that warmed my heart: Personally, the joy of receiving a phone call from my son in Toronto after he and my five-year old granddaughter were surprised to hear my voice on the car radio (CBC Radio and TV had interviewed me at the Vancouver Public Library one rainy day during he campaign).
Many local businesses offered us shelter from the weather while canvassing. A local delicatessen owner provided food and beverages for one of our team meetings; another local coffee shop provided coffee and snacks for our Sunday petition counting group.
On another day, while using the parking lot to meet visiting canvassers from Surrey, Delta, White Rock and Langley, we waited under the canopy of the grocery store because once again it was a rainy day. While handing out supplies and signs to our visiting canvassers, a security van pulled up, a security guard jumped out and ran over asking to sign the petition. Then he got back into his van and drove away. I was very grateful, realizing that he was going out on a limb for us. Also as soon as customers noticed that we were canvassers for the HST petition, they inundated us with requests to sign.
The majority of the public were so kind and grateful for petitions being available at central signing locations. We were asked why we were not door knocking because many had expected us to show up at their homes. We did try to get into apartment buildings and condominiums but found that some managers and strata councils decided not to allow us in to canvass door to door, nor set up tables in their lobbies. I feel badly for those people who could not leave their homes, but it was out of our control. Given more time and more canvassers we would have collected even more signatures.
The experience of working with volunteers has accelerated my personal growth in leaps and bounds. I have nothing but pure love and admiration for every volunteer, and every person who signed the petition.
I encourage every one of you reading my account to get involved and pressure the current provincial government to honour the wishes of the citizens of BC. Get directly involved now, because if Premier Campbell and his MLAs attack the honour and good name of the thousands of average people in BC who volunteered to fight the HST, then they are not responding to the wishes of the people and should be turfed out of office. We can use the recall aspect of the same Referendum and Recall legislation to achieve this. They get their power from us, the voters. It would be irresponsible and unaccountable if these MLAs choose to just ignore the largest petition campaign in the history of BC.
The people have spoken. The voters, do not want the HST. Recall your Hated Sale Tax.