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Emotions high as citizens rip hike to PST

Rallies compared to strife in Pakistan

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Citizen Allan Ciekiewicz (centre) addresses MLAs at hearings into Bill 20 at the legislature.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Citizen Allan Ciekiewicz (centre) addresses MLAs at hearings into Bill 20 at the legislature. Photo Store

Inside a stuffy room with fans humming like a cicada chorus, Chris Dsovza delivered his objection to the PST hike in such a soft voice, it was hard to hear it.

Dsovza told the PST hearing in the legislative building that public anger against the one-percentage-point sales tax increase and the way it was imposed are beginning to frighten him, even to the point where his anxiety is triggering flashbacks of the trauma that made him flee to Canada in the first place.

He said he experienced riots in his native Pakistan, and while rallies on the step of the legislature here are nowhere near as intense, it's enough to make him remember and feel anxious again.

"When people have had trauma like this, the memories can come back any time," Dsovza said outside the committee room where hearings into Bill 20 wrapped up after five days Saturday.

"I'm having flashbacks of riots I saw first-hand," Dsovza said, briefly recalling the tumult of his years in Pakistan and how trauma like that can haunt someone.

Dsovza was among 59 registered presenters Saturday and one of 23 who showed up to say their piece.

More than 200 people showed up over the course of the hearings to vent their discontent.

In the spring budget, the NDP imposed the hike in the provincial sales taxes, despite existing legislation mandating such a tax increase be put to a public vote first. The hearings into Bill 20 have heard from scores of voters angered at the way the tax was imposed.

As of 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 Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party's NDP PST counter.

The Conservatives have announced they will mount a legal challenge to Bill 20, the legislation that enables the government to collect the tax without holding a provincial referendum.

Dsovza's presentation, with its element of emotional fragility, was uncommon.

Saturday, as earlier days, saw ordinary people mostly lob lectures to NDP MLAs about fiscal irresponsibility and political arrogance. The MLAs, including Finance Minister Stan Struthers, listened politely, careful not to feed the fire of anger directed at them. Tory MLAs continued to ask loaded questions designed to punctuate voter unrest.

Some, such as Romel Dhalla, a financial analyst with BMO Nesbitt-Burns, clearly knew many of the MLAs and recognized them cordially, which made his criticism all the more biting.

Dhalla told the committee: "If the government feels it's really doing the right thing, they should put it before the public and ask them to vote on it." He warned them the fiscal climate in Manitoba was getting frigid and venture capital was freezing up.

Among the few professional orators to appear Saturday was former city councillor Garth Steek. "You're going to have to look at yourselves in the mirror and explain why you did it," he told the MLAs, adding the next provincial election may be two years away but it may already be lost.

"People want open transparent, accountable government. We don't expect you to be flawless but we do expect you to have integrity," Steek said.

Others such as Joe Whiten seem less comfortable in a political arena. Dressed in neat khakis and a short-sleeved shirt, the window salesman took the podium and described his life as a single father, raising two children, struggling to make the monthly rent. He said he lived within a budget and grew visibly heated.

"Cut back. Use a budget. Live by it," he said in clipped tones. alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2013 A6

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