The NDP and the Tories are playing a game of political chicken that could cause MLAs to sit right through the summer -- if you believe their rhetoric.
On Thursday, the day the legislature was originally scheduled to break for the summer, the Progressive Conservatives said they were not content simply to prolong the session into July to embarrass the government over its decision to increase the PST. The tax hike is set to take effect July 1.
Tory House Leader Kelvin Goertzen said his party's goal is to make it as difficult as possible for the government to pass Bill 20, period. The bill would allow the province to increase the sales tax to eight per cent without a voter referendum.
'It's going to be the longest-debated bill in the history of the Manitoba legislature'
Given the Opposition's ever-expanding bag of legislative tricks, their objective could take many weeks.
More than 30 hours have so far been devoted to debating Bill 20 -- when the Opposition have allowed debate at all.
"It's going to be the longest-debated bill in the history of the Manitoba legislature," Goertzen vowed Thursday. "We've said to Manitobans we're not going to do anything to allow this bill to pass quickly, and we're not."
Asked if the session could drag into September, he replied: "That's certainly conceivable... "
Since the second session of the 40th legislature began on Nov. 19 (there was a recess between December and mid-April), the government has seen only one of its 47 bills passed. Only three bills have passed second reading.
The government's legislative agenda, which includes an anti-bullying bill for schoolchildren and the forced amalgamation of tiny municipalities, has been effectively stalled.
Government house leader Jennifer Howard said Thursday the NDP will sit as long as it takes to "do the business of Manitobans."
She said the government knew it would be in for a fight when it decided to raise the PST, but it did not want to sacrifice health and education programs while funding important infrastructure improvements.
"Nobody is going to throw us a parade because we come to work in June and July and August. Lots of Manitobans do it and we're prepared to do that," she said Thursday.
The government has said the PST will climb to eight per cent on July 1 whether or not Bill 20 has passed. The bill enables the government to raise the tax without holding a referendum, a requirement enshrined in law by the Filmon government in the 1990s.
The government's budget for the new fiscal year has yet to pass. Currently, there is enough money to pay civil service salaries and other bills until the end of July. MLAs could approve a special supply bill to ensure the bills get paid should they still be debating budget bills late next month.
Howard said she did not think MLAs would allow a situation in which the government was unable to meet its financial obligations, no matter what their differences were on other issues.
MLAs will return to the legislature on Monday.