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PCs, NDP square off over radio report on PST hike

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Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives are accusing an NDP spin doctor of trying to sabotage a negative story on the PST aired by a rural Manitoba radio station.

They called a news conference this afternoon to play the tape of a conversation Friday between the female NDP staffer and Swan River radio station CJSB. In the conversation, the NDP staffer raises doubts as to whether the radio station actually spoke to a taxation branch official, implying it may have been an impersonator.

The matter was quickly cleared up after cabinet communications learned that the station had actually spoken to the official.

At a news conference, PC Leader Brian Pallister condemned the NDP staffer’s actions, accusing her of trying to suppress the story.

"No democratic government has the right to attempt to muzzle the media. This is a government that will go to any lengths to keep in power," he said.

The radio station said the taxation branch official accused Finance Minister Stan Struthers’ office of political interference that caused delays in sending out notices to businesses about the PST hike.

The tax official said the minister’s office demanded that the Finance Department make wording changes to the notice before finally approving that it to be sent out last Thursday.

Matt Williamson, a cabinet spokesman, said today the Conservatives’ version of events is inaccurate.

He said cabinet communications received a request from the radio station for comment on what the taxation official had said.

"The finance official in question advised that he had not spoken with any media," Williamson said in an email to the Free Press.

"As the finance official had no knowledge of having spoken with a journalist, cabinet communications staff contacted the radio station and requested that the story not air as the authenticity of the conversation was in question," Williamson wrote.

"After a conversation with both the station news director and a reporter it emerged that the reporter had contacted the tax branch directly but had not identified himself as a reporter and did not advise that the conversation was being recorded. Once it was determined that the reporter had indeed spoken with the tax department, a response to the request was sent by cabinet communications," Williamson said.

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