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PST hike a 'difficult decision' but necessary, NDP official says

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BRANDON — The Selinger government’s decision to increase the provincial sales tax by one percentage point is a defining measure that marks the start of the next provincial election campaign, the premier’s chief of staff says.

Liam Martin said the move has also "smoked out" Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister as a reckless cost-cutter that the New Democrats can exploit in the next general election.

"We know that winning an unprecedented fifth term will be a challenge, but I’m confident that we have the right team and the right set of ideas to make this happen," Martin told more than 400 delegates at the NDP’s annual convention in Brandon today.

Like the premier did the evening before, Martin said increasing the PST was a "difficult decision" but necessary.

And the New Democrats will also use the tax increase — and the Opposition Conservatives’ reaction to it — to underscore the differences between the two parties in the next provincial election.

"For me and my colleagues we knew that deciding to raise the PST by one point on the dollar meant that the next election campaign had officially begun," said Martin, who will be a senior NDP strategist in the next campaign..

He made the comments during a morning session in which strategists discussed what went right in the 2011 election campaign and what the party will need to do to win the next vote. Manitobans will next go to the polls in October 2015 or the spring of 2016, depending on the timing of the next federal election.

It appears that the NDP will position itself as the party that will "build Manitoba" while painting the Tories as ruthless cost-cutters who will slash frontline services.

A few days after the NDP government released its spring budget, revealing the controversial PST increase to eight per cent effective July 1, Pallister recommended several ways of avoiding the tax hike, which included a one per cent across-the-board cut in government expenses and a civil service "hiring chill."

Martin said the Tory plan would mean firing "at least 1,000 frontline workers."

"To us these are workers who care for our vulnerable loved ones. These are workers who educate our children and keep them safe at school. These are workers who protect our communities from flooding and keep our roads safe," he said.

Strategists also said the party will need to win the ground war by knocking on more doors and getting its message out. St. Norbert MLA Dave Gaudreau said he won a constituency few expected the party to win by going door to door in an effort that saw him wear out two pairs of shoes.

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