Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said today his party is seeking legal advice on whether a bill that clears the way for the government to raise the PST to eight per cent is in fact legal.
"We have people looking at it now, yeah. We’re very concerned," he told reporters outside the legislature.
Balanced budget legislation enacted by the Filmon Conservatives in the 1990s forbids the introduction of a bill that would boost income taxes or sales taxes without a referendum of Manitoba voters.
Pallister said he preferred today to deal with the "moral" issues surrounding Bill 20 rather than its legality. He said the government broke its word not to raise taxes and then did so. And now it’s failing to let voters have their say on the proposed PST hike, which would bring in $278 million in additional revenues each year.
"I’m not a lawyer. I don’t want to guess (on the bill’s legality)," he said, before admitting that his party is investigating that issue.
The Conservatives have repeatedly called on the government this week to hold a referendum before instituting a one percentage point increase in the PST. Bill 20, introduced on Wednesday, would circumvent the current law requiring a vote.
"We’ll do everything we can on behalf of Manitobans and their future to fight this. We just think it’s fundamentally wrong. It’s going to work against the best interests not only of taxpayers but of our province as a whole," Pallister said.
He would not comment on a potential legal challenge. "We’ll do our research and we’ll come back to you on that."
Finance Minister Stan Struthers deflected questions today about whether the bill would stand up to a legal challenge. Instead he defended the merits of increasing revenues to pay for such needed infrastructure as roads and flood mitigation projects.
"We are very confident the government can put forward legislation that meets the needs of Manitoba families. We are very confident in this legislation."
Asked whether the government had sought legal advice before bringing the bill forward, Struthers said:"Our government isn’t going to move forward on something where we haven’t got our homework done."
Meanwhile, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation today held a news conference calling on the Selinger government to cancel plans to raise the PST and "lead by example" by tightening its belt before raising taxes.
The CTF ‘s Colin Craig, joined by representatives of the PC and Liberal parties, called on Selinger to reduce the size of his cabinet to 15 members from 19. He noted that former premier Gary Doer’s first cabinet in 1999 consisted of 15 members, including Doer himself.
Craig also suggested several other cuts that would save taxpayers more than $1 million annually.