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NDP to rubber-stamp contentious Bill 20 today

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Manitoba MLAs are scheduled to vote today on legislation for the July 1 increase to the provincial sales tax, ending a chapter of one of the most vocal political debates in the province's history.

The vote on Bill 20 caps a debate that started last April when then-finance minister Stan Struthers outlined the Selinger government's plan to increase the PST by one point to eight per cent. What followed was an extensive debate led by the Opposition Progressive Conservatives that saw the house sit through a rare summer sitting and several other bills delayed, including the budget implantation bill. That bill went to a vote late Wednesday.

The NDP hold 37 seats in the 57-seat assembly, so Bill 20 is expected to pass without issue.

The NDP have said despite Bill 20 and the budget implementation act not passing in the spring, the tax measures announced in April still came into force because they were announced in the budget. Bill 20 allows for the tax increase without the legislative requirement for public referendum.

Finance Minister Jennifer Howard said the government can now focus on telling Manitobans where the revenue from the tax increase is going. Since the throne speech Nov. 12, the NDP has held almost daily news conferences to highlight road and highway infrastructure projects.

The government is forecast to earn about $300 million annually from the PST increase.

"I take no joy in the passage of that bill tomorrow," Howard said Wednesday. "But I believe it was the right choice for the future of Manitobans and a responsible choice."

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said with the passage of Bill 20, the Tories will be able to take a harder look at going to court to challenge the legality of the bill and tax hike without a referendum.

"It's a precedent, a dangerous precedent because it allows the government to circumvent the right of Manitobans to vote on a tax hike that takes money right off their kitchen table and puts it at the cabinet table for the NDP to spend," Pallister said.

Following the vote on Bill 20, the house is expected to rise for the Christmas break. MLAs are to return to the assembly in March, with a new budget tabled at some point.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2013 B5

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