Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Everybody knows that's how it goes

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In the last election, Premier Greg Selinger's first as leader, he mocked the suggestion he would raise taxes after driving Manitoba into deficit through more than a decade of NDP spending. Mr. Selinger dismissed speculation he would raise the PST as a "ridiculous idea" -- "That's nonsense. Everybody knows that."

Well, as Canada's laureate lyricist might rejoin: "Everybody knows that the boat is leaking. Everybody knows that the captain lied."

A party popularity poll gives proof the NDP ship is listing badly, shot through from a backlash of public resentment over its decision to hike the PST to eight per cent on Monday. Mr. Selinger is eating his words, and changing the balanced budget law to raise a tax to pay for routine public works.

Mr. Selinger tried to package his tax hike as critical to paying for flood fighting and mitigation infrastructure works. But everybody knows that much of the cost of the 2011 flood at Lake Manitoba is paid out, shared by federal disaster assistance funds. The menacing 2013 flood, also cited by the NDP in the tax hike, never materialized.

But what people really see, having 14 years of experience of NDP stewardship, is that the party cannot restrain a self-serving impulse to grow government to amass influence by rampant public spending, and has chewed up every cent in an lucrative run of rising revenue.

Today, Mr. Selinger's personal popularity ranks in the basement, below that of Jon Gerrard, who will retire shortly as leader of Manitoba's Liberal rumps.

Party popularity, tested in a telephone survey with a confidence factor of plus/minus 3.1 percentage points, indicates that the NDP has fallen below the Tories badly in Manitoba, among women and also in Winnipeg, critical to the party's hold on government.

The rise in the Liberals' popularity gives the NDP room for rebound before the next election. But the momentum and potential rest with Brian Pallister and the Tories, who have curried public resentment over the PST hike.

Governments long in the tooth lose favour quickly with the electorate when they take support for granted. Manitobans voted for the NDP when the economy was strong and incomes seemed secure. That's evaporated and a cascade of provincial tax and fee hikes is compounded by the worry that government decisions -- most obviously forcing Manitoba Hydro to spend $1 billion more to route its Bipole III line on the wrong side of the province -- will come home to roost with an expensive punch.

The Probe poll indicates Manitobans view the NDP as too costly, and untrustworthy, a lesson Mr. Selinger may not recognize, but one Mr. Pallister should take to heart.

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 27, 2013 A14

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