"There should be no taxation in British Columbia without representation."
With that call to arms, veteran constitutional lawyer Joe Arvay outlined powerful arguments against imposition of the Harmonized Sales Tax by the BC Liberal government without a vote in the BC Legislature to do so.
Arvay is acting for Fight HST and its leader, former Premier Bill Vander Zalm, in a BC Supreme Court legal action that seeks to have the HST declared unconstitutional.
The case is being heard by Chief Justice Robert Bauman andis opposed by the provincial government and a coalition of big business groups, who have launched their own legal action to overturn the successful Fight HST citizens Initiative petition signed by 705,643 voters.
"This is no small deal. People have fought wars over the right to representation before taxation," Arvay told Bauman in front of a standing-room-only court full of media and observers.
The big business coalition brought out its high-powered legal guns - former BC Liberal Attorney General Geoff Plant, now of Heenan Blaikie, colleague and longtime labour union adversary Peter Gall, former Labour Relations Board chair Don Munroe, also at Heenan Blaikie and University of BC constitutional law professor Robin Elliot.
The BC government is represented by veteran lawyer George Copley, who also attends the Basi-Virk/BC Legislature Raid trial on its behalf, and Alison Luke.
Arvay's argument is that while the BC Liberal government repealed the previous Provincial Sales Tax it never passed legislation imposing the Harmonized Sales Tax - thereby violating Section 53 of the Constitution Act.
"In every other province that has the HST there was such a law - in BC there is no such law," Arvay said. "The whole point is to require a law and then a Bill before there is a tax."
Instead, Arvay stated, the HST was imposed through an agreement between the provincial and federal governments signed on BC's part by Finance Minister Colin Hansen.
"It's for the people's representatives to decide, not the Executive with the stroke of a pen in an office," Arvay said, referring to the Executive Branch of government - or cabinet.
Perhaps Arvay's most telling argument in his opening summary turned the BC-Ottawa HST deal - formally called the Comprehensive Integrated Tax Coordination agreement - on its head to make his point.
"In this agreement the provincial and federal governments agree what the Provincial Value Added Tax [provincial portion of the HST] shall be - 7% - and the province now takes the position that no legislation is required," Arvay said.
"And yet, in the Agreement itself the province, if it wants to change the rate, requires legislative consent," he concluded.
Arvay then cited numerous examples of federal politicians, including Conservative cabinet ministers, who publicly said that the decision to impose the HST was a provincial one, not a federal one.
Arvay also quoted BC Liberal provincial cabinet minister Mary Polak from Hansard, as saying that: "The HST has already been passed by the federal government."
That prompted Chief Justice Bauman to interject to laughter in the courtroom.
"Aren't we seeing an awful lot of rhetoric? Everyone's trying to deflect the criticism of who imposes the HST," Bauman said.
Arvay then summed up his argument that legislation imposing the 12% HST in BC does not constitutionally exist.
"There is no legislative approval at any level for an HST of 12%. The provincial component of the HST is not imposed by federal legislation alone," he said.
Outside the court Vander Zalm told media that the government was ignoring "the will of the people" by imposing the HST and had deliberately avoided legislation that would forced BC Liberal MLAs to vote in favour of the new tax.
"I'm sure if a vote were held today, it would be against the HST," Vander Zalm said.
The case continues Tuesday.