"I made a choice when I left politics to leave politics and I'm enjoying myself in Arizona. But thanks for the question." That's what ex-provincial cabinet minister Rick Thorpe said in April when we asked if he had been doing any political organizing relating to the harmonized sales tax. But Public Eye has learned Mr. Thorpe did suggest the president and chief executive officer of the British Columbia Restaurant Association should moderate the industry's opposition to the HST. In a recent interview with Public Eye, Ian Tostenson confirmed the rumour, noting he and the Okanagan-Westside MLA are both friends and former competitors in the wine industry. "So it's very natural for me to reach out to Rick or Rick to give me some observations."
"I don't want to give you the impression he phoned up to talk about the HST. We were talking about life in general. But certainly when HST came along we had many conversations about HST," he continued.
Mr. Tostenson said the restaurant industry's initial position on the tax "was no tax."
But he and Mr. Thorpe discussed how "that's probably not a real position to take. So what else can you do besides just screaming and yelling about no tax?"
Mr. Tostenson added Mr. Thorpe, who was the Liberals' 2009 election preparation co-chair, wasn't trying to "represent a government perspective."
Instead, he explained Mr. Thorpe is a "master of trying to find a win-win solutions" and "I think it was upsetting him to see that business was sort of fighting a government that was traditionally known and has been traditionally friendly to business."
Asked if Mr. Thorpe had anything to do with the restaurant association's decision to not back Bill Vander Zalm's petition campaign against the HST, Mr. Tostenson said, "No. Not at all."
The association head said he did meet with the former premier. But he couldn't deliver what Mr. Vander Zalm wanted - namely having the "restaurant industry be an outlet for his campaign."
In addition, Mr. Tostenson said restauranteurs "actually believe the Liberal government is the right government for the business climate in British Columbia. And we really felt we weren't here to destabilize the government" - which, according to him, seemed to be one of the purposes of the petition campaign.
"We just wanted to solve our particular issue. And we felt that had we openly endorsed the Bill Vander Zalm campaign we would be getting into partisan politics. And that wasn't what this was all about for us."
Mr. Thorpe, who is presently attending the British Open, hasn't yet responded to an interview request.
In 2005, according to Business Edge magazine, the then economic development minister told a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon the Campbell administration wouldn't harmonize its sales tax with the federal goods and services tax because "we do not want to give our sovereign tax rights away."
Three years later, Mr. Thorpe told the legislature, "It sounds very attractive to talk about harmonization" but warned the elimination of the provincial sales tax and its exemptions would have "far-reaching ramifications, and I can say that harmonization has not been on our agenda."
Last August, following his retirement and the announcement that the province would be introducing the HST, Mr. Thorpe told the Penticton Western News nobody had any prior knowledge of harmonization before the election.