British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell, facing relentless criticism since his government agreed to a harmonized federal-provincial sales tax, says there was no time to run the idea through public consultations first.

"Quite honestly, I don't really think there was time," he told reporters Monday, expressing concerns about delays in adopting the system if the province did not strike a deal with Ottawa quickly. "We had a very tight time frame."

Questions about the HST followed the premier to the official opening of the Canada Line linking Vancouver and Richmond, and Campbell spent a scrum with reporters talking about the tax, not the opening of the $2 billion transit system.

He said Ottawa's offer of $1.6 billion for transition costs was alluring "in the face of dramatically changing economic circumstances and revenues."

The Liberals, who won their third straight term in May, have said they will not be able to hold the deficit to $495 million as promised in the election campaign. They have not specified a new figure.

"If we didn't get it done now, we were going to lose two years, and that was going to put us at a significant disadvantage with regard to investment climate, and frankly would have put us behind the eight ball with regards to a number of other things," Campbell said.

As of July 1, 2010, the 7 per cent provincial sales tax in B.C. will be combined with the 5 per cent goods and services tax.

The Liberals say the change will likely cut costs for businesses, but it will mean higher consumer costs when such PST-exempt goods and services as school supplies, taxi rides and restaurant meals are brought into the new taxation system.

"It may not be popular in the short term, but in the long term it is going to strengthen our economy," Campbell said.

The plan, and the fact that the Liberals did not discuss it with voters in the campaign has sparked online petitions signed by thousands, and talk of recall drives to unseat government MLAs.

"HST was nowhere on our radar until close to the end of May. When we faced the decision, we had to look at a decision to receive $1.6 billion of additional support, transition for health care and education protection which was very important to us," Campbell said.

The issue is likely to be at the forefront of debate when the legislature resumes sitting next Tuesday. By July, Ontario and most other Eastern Canadian provinces will have a harmonized tax system, and Quebec a parallel system.