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'We did not know we'd lose': Pallister

Selinger government in talks to make PCs pay for PST challenge

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Brian Pallister said after last week's ruling he remains undecided on whether he will appeal.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Brian Pallister said after last week's ruling he remains undecided on whether he will appeal. Photo Store

The Selinger government is toying with the idea of going back to court to make the Opposition Tories pay for their ill-fated challenge against last year's increase of the provincial sales tax.

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister lost the court bid in a written ruling released Friday and hinted Monday it's unlikely he will appeal it.

"There is a court, and we can appeal to that court, and that court would be the greatest court Manitoba has in my estimation, and that is the court of public opinion," Pallister said.

Finance Minister Jennifer Howard said what's left undetermined is the awarding of costs in the case and whether the PCs should pick up a portion of the bill the government forked out for its lawyers to prepare and argue the case in the one-day court hearing last month. The province has said taxpayers were forced to spend more than $150,000 in legal costs in response to the PC party's challenge.

"I think if a political party decides to use the courts to engage in political discussion when they should use the legislature, I think they should have to pay for some of that time," Howard said.

SSLqThere is a court, and we can appeal to that court, and that court would be the greatest court Manitoba has in my estimation, and that is the court of public opinion'

Howard added in the PCs court documents, filed in advance of the hearing, they said they would pursue costs if they won.

Pallister said despite the loss, he had no regrets in taking the provincial government to court over its raising of the PST last year by one point to eight per cent.

"Was it the right move? I think keeping your word is the right move," Pallister said.

"Did we know we'd lose? No, we did not know we'd lose. We tried and I think that Manitobans, whether you're a Jets fan or a Bombers fan or not, I think we admire hard-working teams, and if you're successful, that's great, but at least you've got to go out and do your best. We went out and did our best."

Pallister said he had not made a final decision yet about appealing the ruling as he has yet to fully read the 15-page decision and discuss it with his lawyer, Robert Tapper.

Pallister had argued the NDP robbed Manitobans of the right to vote on the tax increase, because the New Democrats, in a single piece of legislation (Bill 20), did away with the need for a referendum when they raised the tax.

Pallister argued that the NDP violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it raised the PST without having a referendum as outlined in the 1995 Taxpayer Protection Act. The act was brought in under the Tory government of Gary Filmon in which Pallister was an MLA.

Court of Queen's Bench Judge Kenneth Hanssen rejected that argument and said based on well-established law, there is no constitutional right to a referendum in Canada.

"I'm not going to dispute what the judge said," Pallister said. "This court decided that the government is the government and that 35 NDP MLAs can make a decision which takes away the power from a million Manitobans. That's been established now in court. That does not make it right. It doesn't make it illegal, but it doesn't make it right, either."

He said during the 2011 election campaign the NDP promised not to raise taxes, but did so on two occasions.

The first was in 2012 when it extended the PST to personal services such as haircuts costing more than $50 and insurance products. The second was last year when it hiked the PST.

"This is a crisis of integrity the government has to wrestle with," he said.

Pallister said if the Progressive Conservatives win the election in about two years, they will lower the PST in its first term in office.

The Selinger government has said revenue from the PST increase will fix roads and highways and fund other infrastructure projects such as new flood-protection measures for Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 22, 2014 A5

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Updated on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 6:47 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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