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Betrayal worth fighting

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The legislature is currently in the middle of one of the longest debates on second reading of a bill in Manitoba history, while Tory House leader Kelvin Goertzen is preparing a marathon speaking engagement on the government's plan to raise the sales tax by one percentage point after winning the last election on promises it would not increase the tax while quickly balancing its budget.

The tax increase is supposed to be effective July 1, but unless the government invokes closure, a device to cut off debate, the session could go well into the summer, which wouldn't exactly cause the province to go over the fiscal cliff, but any delay in passing the budget would affect some spending plans.

Under the rules of the house, Mr. Goertzen will be allowed to speak for as long as he wants -- or can -- on the budget bill. It might be a day or just a few hours before the Tory MLA from Steinbach runs out of steam, but it will be a show of force Manitobans have not seen in a long time. It will underline that the broken promises are more than just a routine political fib -- they amount to a betrayal of the electorate's trust.

The Tories have used a variety of stalling tactics, including tabling motions and amendments on budget estimates, requesting recorded votes and using their maximum speaking time to slow down the machinery of government.

It used to be called a filibuster, a word that hasn't been heard in Manitoba for decades.

Public hearings are also required, which will consume more time before, or if, the government manages to pass and then proclaim its legislation.

In addition to the budget bill, the Tories will be using the rules to also slow down or amend the proposed anti-bullying legislation, which they believe is being rushed into print without adequate consultation.

More than 40 bills are waiting to be passed, including several that are controversial, such as the forced amalgamation of municipalities and a bill that could decide if horse racing, which is as old as Manitoba itself, has a future in the province.

Above all, however, is the battle over the NDP government's plan to increase the sales tax by one point after promising during the last election it had no intention of raising taxes generally, or the PST in particular.

This is the same government that has routinely hammered the Tories over Manitoba Hydro, saying the party could not be trusted to keep its promise not to privatize the debt-ridden utility.

Premier Greg Selinger is also using his majority to eliminate the balanced-budget law and its requirement for a referendum in the event taxes are increased.

In doing so, the NDP has ripped off and distorted previous demands by municipalities, business groups and others to raise the PST by one point on the conditions a referendum be held and the money be used exclusively for urban infrastructure, such as roads.

The NDP claims the extra $270 million raised by the tax will be used for infrastructure, but it has manipulated the meaning of the word to include services such as health and education, which have always been part of government's core mandate.

No one, however, was fooled by the charade: The Selinger government is raising taxes because it is broke and will have trouble balancing the budget before the next election without curtailing its excessive spending or finding more new revenues.

Manitoba politics tended to be somewhat uneventful under former premier Gary Doer and during the early years of Mr. Selinger because the opposition was weak and the issues were deftly managed.

As a result, Manitobans seemed bored by the noise out of Broadway, but the sound and fury today signifies the Opposition is back and politics and promises matter. In fact, they always have mattered and it shouldn't require a filibuster to generate interest in the place where the narrative of Manitoba life is frequently written.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 11, 2013 A6

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