Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Political games over PST rousing ire

Public hearing on tax hike delayed by Tory filibuster

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HUNDREDS of Manitobans who've signed up to speak on NDP legislation -- from cracking down on bullying to raising the provincial sales tax to merging smaller municipalities -- are in limbo due to a cat-and-mouse political game now nearing its 50th day in the Manitoba legislature.

When public presentations start is up to the Opposition Progressive Conservatives, the NDP says.

The PCs say they're not budging from their position the PST hike to eight per cent from seven is bad for the economy and breaks the law, in that the NDP government will not hold a referendum on the increase.

Jeff Koziuk, one of 207 Manitobans who have signed up so far to speak on Bill 20, which would raise the PST to eight per cent July 1, said the longer the delay, the greater the chance he'll miss the committee hearing due to a July conference.

"It matters that I have a say," said the manager of an IT company, adding the government will "infuriate even more people" if it increases the sales tax July 1 before people get a chance to speak on it.

Freelance writer Tony Zerucha, who's also signed up to speak on Bill 20, agreed. "It's undemocratic," he said. "The barn door is locked and the fox is in already."

The legislature is now midway through the first week of an extended spring sitting due to the Tories mounting a series of procedural delays that have blocked all NDP bills and budget approval. Politicians on both sides are threatening to sit through the entire summer.

On Tuesday, PC house leader Kelvin Goertzen launched a mini-filibuster on Bill 20. Goertzen has been granted unlimited speaking time against the bill, but only to 5 p.m., when the house shuts down each day. The NDP had asked for unanimous consent of MLAs for the legislature to sit all night until 9 a.m. Wednesday, but the Conservatives demurred.

"Clearly, what we've seen is that they're not willing to sit past 5 p.m.," NDP house leader Jennifer Howard said "Their workday ends at five for them."

Moments before Goertzen rose to his feet, Howard hinted at the Selinger government invoking closure, limiting debate to hold committee hearings and move the government's legislative agenda forward.

"My job now is to worry less about the tactics and strategy, but to get the business of the house completed," Howard said.

PC Leader Brian Pallister said it's his hope committee hearings accommodate as many people as possible.

Presenters get a week's notice after a bill clears second reading.

"We don't control all the cards. It's a majority government. It's not our government -- yet."

Pallister held a media briefing at Rond's Marine on Dugald Road to outline how "destructive" the PST hike will be to the province's economy. Rond's sells bigger-ticket outdoor products such as boats, ATVs and motorcycles.

"In a way, it's kind of taken the fun out of summer for a lot of people," Pallister said. "Businesses like this have to be able to compete, and taking more money out of the hands of a small business like this and out of the customers that this businesses depends upon, which the PST will do, is going to make it more and more difficult for us in Manitoba to create a sustainable economy."

Rond's manager Jeff Snowdon said a boat selling for $20,000 now will cost an extra $200 after June 30.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 19, 2013 A4

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