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PST increase official, finally

And other highlights of legislative sitting

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Five months after the launch of its controversial tax hike, the Selinger government finally received formal legislative approval Thursday evening to collect an extra percentage point in PST.

The final vote on Bill 20 was taken as MLAs were about to depart for their winter break, ending a 31/2-week sitting that will continue in March with a new budget.

The Progressive Conservative Opposition made one final attempt to convince the government to rescind the hike or get some NDP MLAs to vote against it on Thursday.

The PST hike dominated the last question period of the fall sitting in the legislature, as one Tory MLA after another rose to castigate the NDP about its broken election promise to not raise it and the harmful effect it will have on Manitobans.

The PCs said they will now sue the government because it instituted the tax hike without a provincial referendum, as a previous law directed.

"We've got to fight this because the precedent is a very dangerous one for the future of our province," Tory Leader Brian Pallister said Thursday outside the chamber.

Bill 20 -- introduced in April but passed only on Thursday -- removed the need for a provincial referendum before the PST could be increased. The government argued it was on solid legal ground in instituting the tax hike before passage of the enabling bill due to a legislative tradition surrounding tax hikes announced in the budget.

But nobody predicted how the tax hike would shape political events in Manitoba after it was announced in April. The unpopular measure helped breathe new life into the Opposition Tories. Using a variety of procedural tactics, they stalled the government's legislative agenda and kept MLAs sitting throughout the summer.

On Sept. 13 -- 86 sitting days later -- the Conservatives finally relented and agreed that dozens of government bills, including Bill 20, could come to a vote in a new fall sitting ending Dec. 5. But by then, the governing NDP was badly bruised and down in the polls.


-- The NDP battles back

Five weeks later, Premier Greg Selinger attempted to "reset" the government's political fortunes with a cabinet shuffle that put two of his strongest performers into key economic portfolios --Jennifer Howard and Theresa Oswald.

On Nov. 12, after a two-month break, the Selinger government launched a new legislative session with a throne speech that sought to better justify the PST increase with voters. The new government blueprint would see a record $5.5 billion spent on highways, bridges, flood protection and municipal sewer and water improvements over five years. The seeming mega-announcement lost some of its political pizzazz, though, when it was revealed the $5.5 billion included anticipated contributions from municipal and federal governments.

The NDP followed up with a series of infrastructure announcements.


-- Infidel atheists

With NDP cabinet ministers walking around as though they were starting to get their groove back, Pallister gave them an early Christmas, er... holiday gift, when he agreed to appear in a video shot by Internet blogger and former cable-TV host Natalie Pollock. In a now-infamous remark, he wished "infidel atheists" the best of the holiday season along with a shout-out to practising Christians and Jews.

The remark touched off a social-media frenzy and garnered Pallister national headlines. The Tory leader later issued a quasi-apology while blaming his political opponents for stirring up the fuss when he was merely trying to wish everyone a happy holiday.


-- Lost in the din

Because of the backlog of bills held over from the previous session, the fall sitting that concluded Thursday became a remarkably productive one. Altogether, 35 bills were passed and several more were introduced.

Among the bills passed is legislation that will provide for warranties on new homes, minimum-wage protection for employees with disabilities and consumer protection for automobile buyers.


-- Put a sock in it. Please.

Some worn-out sayings from our provincial politicians this sitting:

"In the 1990s" -- NDP

The Dippers refer to the era the PCs were last in power as Manitoba's version of the Dark Ages. Nurses were fired. Dams didn't get built. Phones were privatized. Reality check: It's almost 2014.

"Kitchen table to the cabinet table" -- Progressive Conservatives

It sounded clever the first time it sprang from Pallister's lips as he criticized the PST hike for taking away money from families to give it to the government. Eight months later? Well, it sounded clever the first time it sprang from Pallister's lips.

"Our government is committed to investing in our (fill in the blank)."

-- NDP

Not quite. The synonym for investing is spending. And for a government in multi-year deficits until 2016 at least, "investing" is not the wisest of words to use.

"SpeNDP" -- Progressive Conservatives

Again, it was funny the first time, but to expect anyone in the media, even friendly media, to pick up on it is a non-starter. Tip? Wanna look like a government in waiting? Lose the cute-kid quips.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2013 A10

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