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HST phone forums get underway

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom - Black Press
Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom
— image credit: Black Press

The B.C. government's outreach on the harmonized sales tax gets underway tonight with telephone town hall meetings for Surrey and the Peace River region, the first of a series of regional forums that aims to ring every listed home phone in B.C.

The first forum was set for Tuesday evening in the southern coast and northern Vancouver Island, but it was postponed because of the Vancouver Canucks playoff game. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon, who will take questions at the Surrey forum starting at 7:15 tonight, said further changes may be made to avoid calling people during Canucks games.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom is in the hotseat for tonight's forum in the Peace River region, his home base. Lekstrom has been given a high profile in the government's HST effort since returning to the B.C. Liberal caucus after quitting last year due to his constituents' protests over the introduction of the HST.

Lekstrom said Wednesday he expects to get questions about the workings of the HST, and also some of the objections that have battered the B.C. Liberal government since the tax was introduced.

But after people have lived with the HST for nearly 10 months, Lekstrom said he is more optimistic it will be supported in a mail-in referendum set to begin in mid-June. He credits Premier Christy Clark's effort to give the public a say.

"The willingness to go out and engage the public in these telephone town hall meetings, the opportunity to have their views heard, is exactly what should have happened 18 months ago," Lekstrom said.

Lekstrom and Falcon will be sharing the telephone town hall duties until all regions have had a turn. People with listed home phones will hear a recorded message inviting them to participate, followed by instructions to ask a question. If they don't want to take part, they can hang up.

Subject to change as the Vancouver Canucks playoff run continues, the schedule is as follows:

Peace River region, tonight, 6:30 p.m.

Surrey, tonight, 7:15 p.m.

Kootenay, April 28, 6:30 p.m. (7:30 Mountain time)

Richmond-South Delta and North Shore, April 28, 7:15 p.m.

Southern Interior, May 3, 6:45 p.m.

Victoria, May 3, 7:15 p.m.

Northern Interior and North Coast, May 4, 6:45 p.m.

Burnaby, Port Coquitlam, New Westminster, Coquitlam, May 4, 7:15 p.m.

Okanagan, May 9, 6:45 p.m.

Fraser Valley, May 9, 7:15 p.m.

Vancouver, May 12, 6:45 p.m.

Calls for May 3, 4, 9 and 12 may be moved due to Canucks games. Updates can be found here.

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