Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tories and Manitobans are winners

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The Tories have scored a victory in their fight to keep the government's feet to the fire over its intent to pass legislation to legitimize the PST hike this year. The house has a date to rise now, but the Selinger government will be forced to continue defending the tax hike when it returns this fall -- Bill 20 will not pass before a new session.

Further, negotiations over the number of days MLAs must spend in the house are set to begin.

The latter development is a welcomed sign. The NDP has used rules of the house to its advantage to truncate debate and escape accountability for years. Under agreement, a session's end date was set but not for its recall. The NDP has recalled the legislature to work in the spring at a later and later date. This year, it was recalled in mid-April and, by rules, set to rise June 13. (That was, however, before the Tories began a series of delay tactics to prolong the session through the summer, hoping to focus Manitobans' anger on the July 1 PST hike, which contravened balanced-budget legislation.)

The drawn-out session has kept the government under fire for a tax hike -- ostensibly to pay for infrastructure projects -- that has simply generated new revenues it is using to fund numerous incidental projects far removed from the definition of infrastructure. As the government rolled out its good-news funding gestures, it was forced to face scrutiny of their self-interested use of the provincial treasury.

Longer sessions hold the government to account. As part of the agreement to halt the current marathon session, the opposition has secured a defined, earlier recall date for next spring. The intent is to make this permanent and to set more days for legislative committees to examine the business of Crown corporations and public accounts -- Manitoba's attention to the latter is an embarrassment compared with the time other jurisdictions dedicate to poring over government spending.

The PST hike is unlikely to be undone. But the protest of the method by which, and the purpose for which, it was raised has resulted in progress toward more useful, meaningful legislative sessions. That's something the Tories can crow about and Manitobans can applaud.

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 August 31, 2013 A16

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