BRANDON -- Premier Greg Selinger says he is not contemplating any further major tax hikes for Manitobans along the lines of the provincial sales tax increase announced in April's budget.
Selinger said the government now has in place the revenues it needs to carry out a decade-long plan to repair roads, invest in schools and hospitals and protect residents from flooding -- all while bringing a half-billion-dollar government deficit under control.
"We plan to move forward with the resources we've got," the premier said following the conclusion of the NDP's annual convention in Brandon on Sunday. "We will keep Manitoba among the most affordable places to live in the country."
'We knew that deciding to raise the PST by one point on the dollar meant that the next election campaign had officially begun'
The provincial government incurred the wrath of many Manitobans when it announced it was increasing the provincial sales tax to eight per cent as of July 1. Selinger had said before his party's re-election in 2011 that he would not raise the PST.
The one percentage point increase will raise some $275 million a year in extra revenue.
But it was evident on the weekend NDP faithful, at least, have accepted the government's rationale the tax hike is necessary to pay for a broad range of infrastructure programs. The more than 400 delegates even overwhelmingly passed a resolution backing the tax hike (without referring to it by name). The motion commended the government for "raising revenue responsibly."
The Progressive Conservatives have denounced the proposed PST hike and are stalling a bill in the legislature that would allow the government to implement it without a public referendum. The Tories argue the Selinger government has plenty of revenue to run the province, but it has failed to seek efficiencies or prioritize programs.
A senior NDP strategist told the weekend convention the decision to increase the provincial sales tax effectively marked the start of the next provincial election campaign -- expected in the fall of 2015 or spring of 2016. Liam Martin, Selinger's chief of staff, crowed the move had also "smoked out" Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister as a reckless cost-cutter because of his reaction to the tax hike. That's something New Democrats say they hope to exploit in the next election.
"For me and my colleagues, we knew that deciding to raise the PST by one point on the dollar meant that the next election campaign had officially begun," said Martin.
A few days after the provincial budget, Pallister recommended several ways of avoiding the PST hike, including a one per cent across-the-board cut in government expenses and a civil-service "hiring chill."
Meanwhile, the NDP convention voted against amending party rules to allow all members to vote in a leadership race, preferring to remain with its delegate convention system.
On Sunday, party members unanimously passed a motion to urge the government to raise the rental allowance paid to those on social assistance to 75 per cent of median market rates -- a measure advocated by anti-poverty organizations.
The Selinger government has resisted raising the rental rates, preferring to boost support to welfare recipients in other ways. However, the provincial Conservatives recently delighted anti-poverty activists by endorsing the measure. Following pressure from his own party on Sunday, Selinger promised to reconsider the idea.
NDP delegates also unanimously passed a resolution Sunday encouraging the province to provide paid employment leave for victims of domestic violence.
Selinger praised the idea as a "worthy concept," but said it will require further study.
"We will discuss it with employers and workers' organizations. And we'll see how we can move forward on it," he said.