Today, Colin Hansen told reporters Elections British Columbia said the agency had "ruled against government proceeding with our regular budget mail out" because it violates the Recall and Initiative Act. The reason: since the government didn't register as an opponent of Bill Vander Zalm's initiative against the tax, it doesn't "have the right to explain through advertising" why legislation preparing the province for the harmonized sales tax is in the "public interest" - at least not while the former premier's petition campaign is underway. But there appears to be several discrepancies surrounding the finance minister's accounting of that ruling:
* Mr. Hansen stated Elections British Columbia's decision is "surprising and disappointing given that previous communications the public affairs bureau had with Elections BC, left them with the clear impression that the budget mail out would be in compliance with the law."
But, in a letter deputy chief electoral officer Linda Johnson on April 22, the public affairs bureau's legal counsel Caroline Bergeron stated Elections British Columbia had advised the government its mailer couldn't suggest people oppose the initiative and the "test must be one of intention, not perception."
And it's that test which, according to Ms. Johnson, the finance minister appears to have failed by making comments in the legislature implying "the intent of the mailer is to oppose the initiative petition." This, according to a letter sent by the deputy chief electoral officer to Ms. Bergeron on April 28.
* when asked whether the government would release the public affairs bureau's earlier communications with Elections British Columbia, the finance minister stated, "Some of that was verbal discussions. But I think we would probably have to talk to Elections British Columbia about the release of that information." So does that mean the government sought the agency's permission prior to releasing the correspondence between Mses. Johnson and Bergeron?
* when asked whether there was any possibility of rewriting that mailer so it would be in compliance with the law, the minister said, "What they have said is we can't mail out information about the HST. The constraints they have put us in are very limiting."
But what Ms. Johnson told the government is it's mailer "requires modification" if it was to be sent out during the initiative period period.
Ms. Johnson noted "the timing and format of the mailer are not consistent with previous mailers regarding past budgets."
Specifically, "to a large extent the mailer is focused on the HST, at times in a very promotional way, and that focus appears to go well beyond the coverage that other budget highlights receive in the document. Any other budget mailers, which again are generally pre-budget consultation documents, are not dominated by a single issue to the extent this one is."
"Of particular concern," she concluded "are pages 4 and 5, which are solely focused on the HST and result in the topic dominating the mailer."
The finance minister declined to provide the media with a copy of the mailer because, according to him, it would violate the law.