Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

PST increase could beat hearings

Tory strategy stymies NDP

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The Opposition Progressive Conservatives raised the possibility Wednesday public hearings on the NDP's plan to raise the provincial sales tax without a referendum won't start until after July 1 -- the date the government says the increase will take effect.

The NDP has said the hike to eight per cent from seven per cent can happen even if Bill 20 isn't passed in the house, but the Tories argue doing that before public hearings makes a mockery of democracy.

"It was the premier who said that he wants to hear people come and speak to Bill 20," Tory house leader Kelvin Goertzen said.

"We're in a situation now where not only did he take away the referendum... he's likely going to put in the PST tax increase on July 1 without even hearing people at committee. That's interesting. At first you strip away the referendum and now you don't even listen to people before you put in the PST increase. It's an interesting scenario."

The potential delay in hearings is a sign of the legislature's inertia due to the Tories' use of procedural rules to stymie the NDP's legislative agenda.

'... First you strip away the referendum and now you don't even listen to people before you put in the PST increase. It's an interesting scenario' -- PC house leader Kelvin Goertzen

During the past two days, both sides have exchanged proposals to break the gridlock, but there's been little movement toward an agreement. The house is to rise at the end of the day today, but will be recalled, likely on Monday.

The NDP extended an olive branch in a letter Tuesday from government house leader Jennifer Howard to Goertzen and Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard.

The letter outlines the NDP's plan to give the public the appropriate amount of time to comment on contentious NDP bills such as Bill 20 and Bill 18, the NDP's anti-bullying legislation. The NDP is willing to agree that public hearings will not sit past midnight for two additional evening meetings.

Under normal rules, for the first two evening meetings, unanimous consent is needed to sit past midnight. At midnight on the third and any subsequent evening meeting, the committee chair may decide whether the committee shall sit past midnight.

The NDP is also willing for public hearings on the two bills to begin at 10 a.m. on a Saturday to accommodate speakers who cannot attend an evening meeting.

Approximately 500 people have registered to speak on Bill 18, Bill 20 and Bill 33, the bill that would see smaller municipalities merge with larger neighbours.

Goertzen said the Tories will accept nothing less than a fair, structured process for public meetings on NDP bills.

"We propose that 25 presenters a night be identified for committee," Goertzen said in the response. "They can be notified by the clerk's office in advance.

"As well, we are prepared to sit Saturday for each Bill 18 and 20 from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. under the assurance that presenters will be notified if they will be presenting in the morning, afternoon or evening."

Howard also wrote in the letter the NDP "would very much like to see" the departmental estimates process, including consideration of the concurrence motion and passage of the Loan Act and Appropriations Act, finished in June so the government can meet a number of funding commitments to programs and organizations.

She wrote the NDP is willing to extend normal sitting hours to 7 p.m. from 5 p.m.

Because of Tory delays, mostly focused on the PST increase without a public referendum, only about one-quarter of the required 100 hours of the estimates has been completed.

Goertzen also said the PCs are prepared to move the departmental estimates process ahead by sitting hours beyond the 5 p.m. quitting time.

He said the Tories also want an earlier start to the spring session.

The NDP has in part timed the start of the spring session after the federal government hands down its budget for the coming fiscal year.

Goertzen said the PCs want the session to start in February -- the NDP can deliver its budget any time during that session -- so "that Manitobans can be made aware of and participate in the discussion of legislation that impacts them."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2013 A4

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