Manitoba's Tories want a judge to decide if the NDP's hike of the provincial sales tax was illegal.
The legal paperwork was filed at court Friday and a hearing is scheduled for April 25. It could be months, if not years, before the legal challenge is decided.
Opposition Leader Brain Pallister said the nub of the PCs' argument is the NDP ran afoul of the law by hiking the PST without holding a public referendum, as required under the 1995 Taxpayer Protection Act.
"What we're asking the courts is if the process the government used was legal or should be struck down," Pallister said Friday. "The NDP presented a bill to hike the PST at the same time as they did away with the right of Manitobans to vote on the issue, and so they combined two actions into one bill. We believe that was illegal on its face and we would like the court to rule on that."
Balanced-budget legislation enacted by the Filmon Conservatives in the mid-'90s forbids the introduction of a bill that would boost the sales tax without a referendum. The NDP's Bill 20 did away with that requirement.
The NDP counter they acted within their rights as government to implement a tax hike before passing the enabling legislation. They've also characterized the PCs' court action as a political charade.
"I'm very satisfied that at the end of the day this will be exposed for just another political tactic by the Progressive Conservatives," Justice Minister and government house leader Andrew Swan said.
Lawyers Jonathan Kroft and Martin Freedman are acting for the province. Robert Tapper acts for the PCs.
Pallister said the PCs ultimately want a judge to order the PST increase be reversed.
"We'd like the legislation which existed prior to the government's ignoring it to be respected, and that legislation required that Manitobans have the right to vote on major tax hikes," he said.
The likelihood of the PCs winning their legal challenge is iffy.
A similar challenge last year by supporters of the Canadian Wheat Board, to reverse Ottawa's end of the agency's monopoly, was rejected by the courts. At issue was whether Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz broke the law by ending the CWB monopoly without a vote of farmers.
Strategically, however, it allows the Tories to draw out their public fight against the PST increase, should their challenge be allowed to drag through the courts, into the next general election campaign. The next election is April 19, 2016.
"Using the courts in this instance, where we believe NDP put themselves above the law, is the correct course of action and that's what we're going to pursue," Pallister said.