Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tempers still hot at PST hearing

Speakers grill NDP on fourth day

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If you thought Winnipeg's glorious heat wave and a done-deal tax hike might spell the end of the PST hearings, you don't know Keith Bazin and Allison Campbell.

Bucking speculation the long, hot hearings on Bill 20 might be fizzling, Bazin and Campbell were part of a strong turnout at the Manitoba legislature Thursday night.

Manitoba Tories launch tax counter on website

Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives found a new way Thursday to keep the Selinger government's PST hike in the public eye.

PC Leader Brian Pallister called a news conference to unveil a counter on the party's website that tracks how much additional tax is flowing into government coffers on a second-by-second basis. The total is about $9 per second or $277 million a year.

As of late Thursday afternoon, about $2.8 million in additional retail sales tax revenue had been collected since the PST was raised to eight per cent from seven per cent on Canada Day, according to the PC's NDP PST Counter.

On Tuesday, the Conservatives announced they would mount a legal challenge to Bill 20, the legislation that enables the government to collect the tax without holding a provincial referendum.

"The illegal PST hike is not a small amount of money," Pallister said Thursday. "It's more than $5 million a week that is coming out of the pockets of working Manitobans, retired Manitobans and struggling small businesses. And it is going to the coffers of the provincial government."

Pallister said the NDP appears to be hoping Manitobans will forget about the tax hike come the next provincial election, slated for the fall of 2015 or spring of 2016.

But he said the Opposition won't let that happen. "We want Manitobans to remember," he said.

The governing NDP responded to the Tory move by pointing out the new PST revenue will be directed to building roads, flood protection and other critical infrastructure.

"The PCs may want to create another counter tracking the half a billion dollars in cuts to the budget that they're pressing for," said cabinet spokeswoman Sally Housser in an email. "Brian Pallister's proposals would cut more than $10.5 million each week (or $17.44 per second) from our schools, hospitals and roads," she said.


-- Larry Kusch

Instead of watching the Bomber game, Bazin chose to sit through several hours of moderately repetitive public presentations in a stuffy old committee room with a lot of sweaty Manitobans.

"That's how annoyed I am at this bill," said Bazin, a class 1 truck driver.

'The next election, hopefully they'll be defeated and they'll repeal this increase'

-- Keith Bazin

Thursday was the fourth evening of hearings on the PST hike, all following a similar pattern. People blister NDP MLAs with accusations of fiscal mismanagement, dishonesty and despotism. Finance Minister Stan Struthers politely thanks the presenters, and Tory MLAs ask loaded questions designed in part to run down the clock.

Earlier this week, the hearings ended early when more than half the speakers were no-shows. But 22 people spoke Wednesday, keeping MLAs at the table until 11:30 p.m., and Thursday was on track for the same.

But why spend a precious summer evening railing against a done deal?

"The way I see it, nothing's a done deal," said Bazin. "The next election, hopefully they'll be defeated and they'll repeal this increase."

Allison Campbell, who owns a spa and a bookkeeping business, was a little more attuned to the futility of it all.

After distancing herself from those who call New Democrats liars and acknowledging governments occasionally need to raise taxes, Campbell systematically schooled MLAs on the cumulative and devastating trickle-down effect of the PST increase on consumers.

She said she was glad she spoke first before MLAs had completely wilted.

"I think they heard what I was saying, but I don't think it will change anything," said Campbell outside in the cool hallway. "The thing I didn't get to say was how angry I am as a taxpayer that they're running roughshod over the (referendum) law -- 'Nope, doesn't matter. We're going to do it anyway.' "

It was the first time Campbell had ever spoken to a legislative committee. Out in the hallway, she said she felt satisfied she'd said her piece.

Tory Leader Brian Pallister popped out of the committee room to shake Campbell's hand, towering over the petite lady and shmoozing her in his shirtsleeves, as he has done with nearly every presenter in recent evenings.

Thursday's hearings were sprinkled with some people, including union leaders, who support the PST hike, giving the NDP a short respite from some harsh words. Norm Gould, vice-president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, told MLAs the PST hike and proper investments in education are a vital antidote to the cuts of the 1990s. Others, including Lynne Fernandez from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said the NDP is making a wise long-term decision despite the short-term political pain.

But Bazin, who deliberately rushed out to buy a tent-trailer before the hike took effect Monday, said the PST has changed his political allegiance.

Not an overly partisan guy, he voted for Education Minister Nancy Allan and the NDP in the last election, but says a two-year wait for the next campaign will not dampen his anger.

"Every time I look at that tent-trailer, it will remind me of the PST," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2013 A8


Updated on Friday, July 5, 2013 at 7:54 AM CDT: adds link, adds sidebar

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