The Fight HST campaign has asked the RCMP to conduct a formal investigation into a BC government web site promoting the HST, after Elections BC refused to act on a complaint filed by the Fight HST team.
Bill Vander Zalm, the former premier leading the campaign against the HST, says the government website promoting the HST that is designed to counter the anti-HST petition. The site, located at http://hst.blog.gov.bc.ca/2010/03/31/view-all-videos/ contains a series of recently produced video advertisements designed to discredit the Initiative proponent.
Vander Zalm says the videos contravene the Initiative Act, as follows:
s. 31 – An individual or organization who wishes to oppose an initiative petition and intends to incur expenses in their opposition campaign must apply to register as either an opponent or as an initiative advertising sponsor.
The Initiative Act defines “advertising” as:
…any public promotional material including, but not limited to leaflets, lawn signs, billboards, brochures, buttons, badges, websites, newspapers, radio, television, newsletters and public address systems.
The Initiative Act defines “Initiative Advertising” as:
Advertising used during an initiative petition period to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the initiative petition or draft Bill, (in this case, The HST Extinguishment Act)
The Act also states:
s. 39 – No individual or organization may incur an initiative expense unless they are an authorized participant or a registered initiative advertising sponsor. Unauthorized individuals or organizations that incur initiative expenses are subject to significant penalties.
“Everyone knows the BC government dropped the ball by not registering as an opponent,’ Vander Zalm said. “Now, we think they are breaking the law to try to get their message out
Chris Delaney, Fight HST’s lead organizer, says he made a formal complaint to Elections BC about the government HST web site, but that the legal team at Elections BC was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation for why they deemed the BC Government website as “outside the Initiative Act.”
Elections BC had earlier ruled that a planned government advertising mail out would be in violation of the Act. He says both websites and the mail outs are classified as advertisements under the Initiative Act.
“We asked them to explain why a mail out extolling the tax was a violation, but a website with videos doing exactly the same thing was not,” Delaney said. “Their replies were unsatisfactory, since they could not explain specifically why the government website did not meet the definition of advertising under the act.”
Elections BC spokesperson, Nola Western, said the act “does not define ‘advertising.’”
“Rather, it defines initiative advertising as ‘advertising used during an initiative petition period to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the initiative petition or draft Bill.’ To provide guidance to advertising sponsors and other clients, Elections BC consulted with legal counsel and developed the definition of advertising included in The Guide to the Initiative Process. Although that definition does refer to websites, it does not imply that every website constitutes advertising.”
Vander Zalm said the approximately 700,000 British Columbians who have so-far signed the petition “deserve to know if there is one set of rules that apply to them, and another set of rules for the government.”