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Tally almost $125K for failed recall campaign against Ida Chong

British Columbia Liberal cabinet Minister Ida Chong is the first MLA to be targeted for recall by the Fight HST group.

Geoff Howe For The Globe and Mail/geoff howe The Globe and Mail

Business and labour lined up against each other in the failed attempt to recall cabinet minister Ida Chong over the harmonized sales tax, with the traditional B.C. duel driving up the campaign's total cost to almost $125,000.

Elections BC expense reports released Tuesday for the Oak Bay-Gordon Head recall campaign read like a microcosm of B.C. politics.

A business group with strong Liberal ties supported the Oak Bay-Gordon Head Liberal MLA and a labour union, disgruntled at the way the Liberal government handled its contract dispute, backed the recall team.

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Recall campaigners in Ms. Chong's Victoria area riding admitted defeat last month after gathering only 8,818 signatures when they needed 15,368 signatures to force a by-election.

Both sides were below the $36,000 expense limits, but the Chong campaign received outside help from the Independent Contractors and Business Association of B.C., who paid for third-party advertising against recall.

Expense documents show the independent contractors spent $43,124 on pro-Chong advertising.

Phil Hochstein, a spokesman for the group, said his organization got involved to spread the message that the recall bid was a thinly disguised attempt to refight the 2009 B.C. election.

"The recall proponents were being used by the NDP and its followers to try and topple the government," he said. "That's what it was all about."

Mr. Hochstein said the anti-HST forces had already helped force the retirement of Premier Gordon Campbell and gained the promise of a province-wide vote on the HST. But they decided to mount recall campaigns anyway.

"If it was all about the HST, they had got what they wanted," he said.

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The Liberals introduced the HST in July 2009 and made it law on July 1, 2010. The 12-per-cent tax combines the former 7-per-cent provincial sales tax with the 5-per-cent federal goods and services tax.

The government and business groups say the HST spurs investment and creates jobs, while opponents say it shifts taxes on to consumers.

A massive petition drive by British Columbians opposed to the HST resulted in the government approving a provincewide vote on the future of the HST. The vote is officially set for this September, but incoming Premier Christy Clark has said she will move the vote date up to June 24.

John Strohmaier, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., said the union backed the anti-HST camp in Ms. Chong's riding by providing the services of an office manager to the recall team at a salary worth about $7,450.

The union also chipped in a $500 cash donation and the Victoria and District Labour Council contributed $500, bringing the labour total to $8,433.21, the Elections BC expense documents show. Mr. Strohmaier said he does not support the HST, but the union joined the Ms. Chong recall fight to register its unhappiness with the Liberals under Mr. Campbell, who officially leaves office on Monday.

"We thought that it would be a good opportunity to express our displeasure at the Gordon Campbell government regarding how he's treated ambulance paramedics the last three or four years." he said.

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"Paramedics have a list of grievances with Gordon Campbell's government, absolutely."

Mr. Strohmaier said there's been a labour dispute, a legislated end to that dispute and an industrial inquiry commission the union opposed.

The Elections BC expense documents stated Ms. Chong's campaign spent less money - not counting the $43,000 from Mr. Hochstein's contractors - than the anti-HST forces at $28,430.58.

The recall side spent $32,253.73. Ms. Chong's expenses state the B.C. Liberal Party loaned her campaign $25,000.

The Chong financial report also included $20,000 the B.C. Liberal Party earmarked for Comox Valley Liberal Don McRae to fight a recall campaign in his Vancouver Island riding. But Elections B.C. put Mr. McRae's Liberal Party money on Ms. Chong's ledger because the campaign against Mr. McRae hadn't yet officially started.

The Chong recall team also reported it made $54.20 by selling a desk and empty bottles. There are three recall campaigns currently underway, including the one targeting Mr. McRae.

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