THE Conservative Opposition used procedural tactics in the legislature on Monday to stall debate on a bill that would enable the Selinger government to increase the PST to eight per cent without a referendum of Manitobans.
Meanwhile, the president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce issued a call to action to the leaders of 600 city businesses to mobilize against Bill 20.
In the legislature, the Tories again grilled the NDP government over the proposed July 1 tax hike -- as well as a 3.5 per cent Hydro rate increase that takes effect on Wednesday.
The Conservatives repeatedly challenged rulings by house Speaker Daryl Reid, causing the division bells to ring for an hour at a time while members were called to the chamber for recorded votes.
Opposition house leader Kelvin Goertzen (Steinbach) said during one of the delays his party wants to put the brakes on house business to give the public more time to mobilize against Bill 20.
"People need to have an opportunity to change the government's mind. We want to make sure they have every opportunity to do that," Goertzen said.
As of Monday afternoon, 143 Manitobans had already registered with the clerk of the legislature to speak on the controversial bill at the committee stage.
Earlier in the day, Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Dave Angus called on his organization's member companies to voice their displeasure with Bill 20 and register with the legislature clerk to speak against it. Angus also provided members with the clerk's office phone number, 204-945-3636.
In an email, Angus also urged business leaders to send letters of protest to Premier Greg Selinger.
"We would urge Manitobans to contact their local MLA and demand that the current balanced-budget law be upheld, which would ensure that no tax increase occurs without a public referendum," Angus wrote. (Bill 20 would strike down the need for that referendum.)
Angus outlined several reasons for the chamber's opposition to the proposed bill. He said the government failed to consult key stakeholders before introducing the tax hike and hasn't outlined a clear plan for how it would spend the $277 million a year it would raise. Increasing the PST to eight per cent would make Manitoba uncompetitive with jurisdictions such as Saskatchewan, which has a five per cent sales tax, Angus said. And he said the province has yet to show how the measure would solve the mounting infrastructure deficit municipalities face.
A rally against the Manitoba government's plan to raise the provincial sales tax is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at the legislative building. The rally is sponsored by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association.