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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tempers still hot at PST hearing

Speakers grill NDP on fourth day

Posted: 07/5/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 07/5/2013 7:54 AM | Updates

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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.

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.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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

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

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