Shortly after 11 am Friday, August 26, Acting Chief Electoral Officer Craig James delivered HST vote results to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the Clerk of the Assembly and the Attorney General. At 11:15 am, James released details to members of the news media waiting in the Press Gallery.
With the exception of a few people at Elections BC sworn to secrecy, this was allegedly the first release of voting results to anyone. But, not really.
Days ago, I wrote that Elections BC had provided the the vote outcome to the Liberal Government before Friday’s pageant. Indeed, Friday the Finance Minister admitted a transition team was already in place and a date chosen to reestablish PST. Additionally, negotiations on withdrawing from the HST had begun with Ottawa.
Now, it seems that the vote result was circulated even more widely. Two hours after Craig James delivered results to the Speaker’s Office, rating agency Standard & Poor’s issued a bulletin.
Because the bulletin reads like a press release from the BC Finance Ministry, it is a near certainty that Standard & Poor’s had advance notice of the results and had been briefed by the BC Government as to how effects of the tax change were to be played.
S&P refers to “forgone HST revenue” but there is uncertainty about that since BC was committed to dropping HST from 12% to 11% in 2012 with another 1% reduction to follow. The previous Liberal position had been that 12% HST was revenue neutral vis a vis PST so, if it relied on the public record, S&P could only be uncertain about the referendum resulting in tax losses.
Standard & Poor’s has been accused before about shaping its opinions to suit political needs and I think it is appropriate to raise the accusation again. I also note that, despite statements of professional pollsters that the result was impossible to call, pundits usually favoured by Liberals predicted the result accurately, to within a few points of actual. Lucky or informed guesses? We should ask.