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NDP hit by tax-hike backlash

PCs likely to gain thanks to unpopular increase

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Question period at the Manitoba Legislature assembly. The Tories have hammered at the NDP over the PST increase.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Question period at the Manitoba Legislature assembly. The Tories have hammered at the NDP over the PST increase. Photo Store

Manitobans, including some New Democrats, think the PST hike was unnecessary, and many say they plan to vote that way in the next provincial election.

A new Probe Research poll done for the Winnipeg Free Press found 65 per cent of Manitobans aren't buying Premier Greg Selinger's argument the PST hike was needed to maintain key public services and repair infrastructure. Instead, most side with the Progressive Conservative Opposition, which has hammered the NDP over the recent one-point hike, saying the province ought to do a better job of managing existing tax revenue.

The new polling figures aren't surprising -- "People like a tax increase about as much as they like root canals," said Probe's senior research associate, Curtis Brown.

But the poll also carries a warning for the NDP, now halfway through an unprecedented fourth term and facing a stronger Tory Opposition and a Liberal party enjoying a mini-renaissance. Roughly half of those polled who voted NDP in the last election said the tax hike was a bad idea, and about half of all people polled said the tax hike will make them less likely to vote NDP in 2016.

In this year's budget, the NDP surprised many by reversing a campaign pledge and increasing the PST by one point to eight per cent. The money is earmarked for infrastructure, though exactly what projects will be funded remains murky. The Selinger government has largely failed to offer a clear picture of exactly how much money will be spent on what projects in the coming years, prompting many to criticize not only the party's decision to raise the PST, but also the way it sold the idea to citizens.

Veteran political scientist Paul Thomas said the public tends to be "blissfully unaware" how government revenues and spending operate or which taxes may be the most effective. Instead, voters often judge tax hikes based on the fairness of the process. In the NDP's case, not only did Selinger break a campaign promise, he also eliminated legislation mandating a referendum on any tax increases.

"This breaking of a promise and the violation of what was seen as due process for gaining public consent undermine the legitimacy of the action and made it difficult to gain public support for even a 'small' tax increase," said Thomas.

Meanwhile, the Tories continue to enjoy a substantial 14-point lead over the NDP, though a lot can change in the two-plus years before the next provincial election, likely slated for April 2016. Polling numbers between elections tend to be softer, and voters cranky over the PST hike may return to the NDP when a real ballot is placed in front of them.

"That's the $64,000 question. Will it stick?" said Brown. The party may be able to weather PST anger now, take its lumps and win back some support over the next couple of years, he said.

Thomas agreed, saying specific issues such as the PST matter less during an election than more nebulous ones such as leadership and the general image of the party, despite what people say when pollsters call to ask about a hot topic.

"Under modern conditions, politics is highly volatile and voters are very fickle in their loyalty, which means that short-term events matter more and the barometer of voting intentions can swing widely in a short period of time," said Thomas.

The new polling figures are in contrast to an online survey Probe conducted in early 2012 for the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, which has long battled for a dedicated sales tax for urban repairs.

Back then, almost two out of three Manitobans supported a one per cent municipal sales tax if funds were earmarked for infrastructure, guaranteed.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Will the PST hike change your voting habits in the next election? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 7, 2013 A3

History

Updated on Monday, October 7, 2013 at 9:22 AM CDT: Corrects that response to "Yes, the PST increase was necessary" was 27 per cent, not 2 per cent

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