BRANDON — Premier Greg Selinger acknowledged tonight that his government’s decision to raise the provincial sales tax is unpopular, but he defended it as a necessary measure in order to maintain key public services and build the economy.
Speaking to the party faithful this evening at the start of the NDP’s annual convention in Brandon, Selinger admitted that his government produced "a difficult budget" on April 16 in announcing that the PST would rise to eight per cent.
"We had to make some choices about how we move forward in this province. And yes we decided that it was necessary to raise one cent on the dollar for the provincial sales tax. And that was necessary because we can’t cut the core services... of health care and education. We need to fund those services," he said to polite applause.
"When we make those decisions we know that not everybody is going to be entirely happy and we understand that. But our job is to build the province for the future and to be accountable for results. And I can tell you that this budget places us on the pathway to a more prosperous Manitoba."
Selinger said governments in Western Europe have employed austerity measures with disastrous results. He said austerity has led to "triple-dip recession" in both Great Britain and France.
"Austerity by itself does not allow you to recover from the greatest recession that we’ve had since the 1930s," Selinger told the more than 400 registered delegates. "You have to have a program that trains young people, educates young people, builds schools and hospitals and roads and looks after communities that have been ravaged by floods. You have to have a program that expands the economy and expands opportunities for the future. And that’s what we’re doing here in Manitoba."
New Democrats are holding their convention at a time when the party’s fortunes are sinking in the polls.
Last month, a Probe Research poll for the Winnipeg Free Press found that NDP support had fallen in seat-rich Winnipeg by 13 percentage points from December.
Worse for the New Democrats, the poll was taken just days before the government announced the PST hike.
The poll revealed that the Conservatives have tied the NDP in popular support in Winnipeg and lead 42 per cent to 35 per cent across the province. It’s the first time since the NDP swept to power in 1999 that the Conservatives have tied the NDP in popular support in Winnipeg.
The April 16 budget appears to have energized the Progressive Conservatives, who have hammered the NDP over the PST increase, labeling the governing party the SpeNDP. The PCs have argued repeatedly that the government has sufficient revenues without increasing the retail sales tax, which will raise more than $275 million a year. Instead, they say, the government has a spending problem.
The NDP convention wraps up on Sunday.