A boisterous crowd of about 500 gathered in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building in near-freezing temperatures this evening to vent their frustration at the Selinger government’s decision to raise the provincial sales tax.
They were also upset that the NDP has introduced legislation, Bill 20, to eliminate the need for a provincial referendum on a PST hike.
In the crowd were many small-business owners and retirees, Tory and Liberal politicians and political operatives, and ordinary folks who are simply fed up with tax increases.
They sported such signs as ‘$elinger the $pender,’ "PST’d Off,’ ‘Taxed to the Max,’ and ‘Dictators don’t waste time voting.’
Participant Jeff Hodge said he felt "betrayed and outraged" when he first learned the province was going to raise the PST. He said taxes are already too high in Manitoba, and he’s grown impatient with the "rotating excuses" Premier Selinger is making to justify the tax increase.
"One time it’s the flood, one time it’s health care, the next time it’s infrastructure. And everybody really knows it’s because we have a massively bloated government," said Hodge, who manages the Fort Rouge Curling Club.
The rally against the PST increase was co-sponsored by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. The groups announced the event less than a week ago.
Organizers had expressed concern the chilly temperatures — 1 C at the time of the event — might deter folks from coming out to the protest.
But Colin Craig, the CTF’s Prairie director, said the crowd was larger than he’d expected.
"We were quite pleasantly surprised with the number of people that came out," he said afterwards. "And you could see that there was a lot of passion in this crowd, and that’s great because now everybody is going to go home and talk to their family members and their neighbours and they’re going to say, ‘Look, if we just keep fighting we can win this battle.’ "
Speakers at the protest included Conservative Opposition Leader Brian Pallister, Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard and officials with the three sponsoring organizations.
Premier Greg Selinger was invited but his staff said he had a prior commitment this evening.
Bill 20 faces a rough ride in the Manitoba legislature — although with a solid majority the NDP has plenty of votes in the house to pass it.
So far more than 160 members of the public have signed up to speak on the bill when it reaches committee stage.