Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister has lost his court bid to reverse the province’s hiking of the provincial sales tax without a referendum.
In a 15-page decision released today, Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Kenneth Hanssen said Pallister didn’t have a legal leg to stand on.
The PCs argue the NDP's tax hike robbed Manitobans of the right to vote on the tax increase, because the New Democrats, in a single piece of legislation (Bill 20), did away with the need for a referendum when they raised the tax by one point to eight per cent last year.
Hanssen was asked to decided whether the NDP violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it hiked the PST without having a referendum as outlined in the 1995 Taxpayer Protection Act. The act was brought in under the Tory government of Gary Filmon.
A lawyer for the Selinger government argued that Pallister’s claim undermined the role of elected MLAs to make decisions.
Hanssen said that there is no constitutional right to a referendum in Canada.
"Mr. Pallister argues that by increasing the (PST) without complying with the procedure of the (Balanced Budget Act) Manitoba infringed the rights of Manitoba citizens to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Charter," Hanssen said. "He argues that voting in a referendum is an expressive activity. He maintains that as Bill 20 exempted the increase in the (PST) from the referendum requirement in the BBA, it affected the expressive activity of citizens of Manitoba and thereby violated their freedom of expression.
"I do not agree. There is no constitutional right to a referendum in Canada.
"Mr. Pallister has failed to satisfy me that the Charter is engaged in this case."
Hanssen also didn’t mince words when addressing the Filmon government’s 1995 Taxpayer Protection Act.
"The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty prevents a legislative body from binding future legislative bodies as to the substance of its future legislation," he said. "This is precisely what the Progressive Conservative government was trying to do in 1995.
"The Supreme Court of Canada again confirmed that ‘as a matter of constitutional principle, neither Parliament nor the legislatures can, by ordinary legislation, fetter themselves against some future legislative action.’"
Pallister has said he would appeal if he lost in the Court of Queen’s Bench.