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Hundreds jeer NDP's PST hike

Crowd also expresses anger over lack of referendum

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A boisterous crowd of about 500 protesters gathered in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building Thursday night to protest the provincial government's decision to hike the provincial sales tax one percentage point.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

A boisterous crowd of about 500 protesters gathered in front of the Manitoba Legislative Building Thursday night to protest the provincial government's decision to hike the provincial sales tax one percentage point. Photo Store

It was cold enough outside to make you want to put on gloves, and the Stanley Cup playoffs were on TV.

But that didn't stop about 500 Manitobans from crowding the front steps of the legislative building Thursday evening to vent their anger at the Selinger government over its decision to raise the PST to eight per cent on July 1.

They also expressed frustration that they would not be given a chance to vote on the proposed tax increase in a referendum -- a right that is currently enshrined in law.

Small-business owners, retirees, opposition party politicians and political staffers, professionals and ordinary citizens fed up with high taxes showed up waving signs and chanting, "Let us vote, let us vote."

They were upset not only at the prospect of paying more for goods in stores, but with a bill before the legislature that will remove the requirement that a referendum be held before the sales tax is increased.

"I own a small business, and if I'm having troubles paying my bills, I don't put up my prices," said business owner Linda Zuzanski. "I look at ways to cut expenses. I just wish this government could learn to balance their books without putting up the sales tax."

Connie Hall, who owns a women's fashion store in south Winnipeg, said she was worried the PST hike would send more shoppers south of the border. "It's already a hard market out there. And we don't want that to happen," she said.

Some protesters expressed outrage that the government had increased the PST after promising not to do so before the last election. One woman sported a sign reading, "Lie$ and out of control spending P$T hike."

Others signs read: "$elinger the $pender," "PST'd Off," "Taxed to the Max" and "Dictators don't waste time voting."

Another, referencing a TV candy-bar commercial, read: "Selinger, eat a Snickers. You're a tax-hiking, money-grabbing socialist when you're hungry."

Winnipegger Jeff Hodge said he felt "betrayed and outraged" when he first learned the province was going to raise the PST.

He said taxes are already too high in Manitoba and he's grown impatient with the "rotating excuses" Premier Greg Selinger is making to justify the tax increase.

"One time it's the flood, one time it's health care, the next time it's infrastructure. And everybody really knows it's because we have a massively bloated government," said Hodge, who manages the Fort Rouge Curling Club.

The rally against the PST was co-sponsored by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. The groups announced the event less than a week ago.

Organizers had earlier expressed concern that the unseasonably cold temperatures -- 1 C at the time of the event -- might deter people from coming out.

Colin Craig, the CTF's Prairie director, said the crowd was larger than he'd expected.

"We were quite pleasantly surprised with the number of people that came out," he said afterwards. "And you could see that there was a lot of passion in this crowd, and that's great because now everybody is going to go home and talk to their family members and their neighbours and they're going to say, 'Look, if we just keep fighting we can win this battle.' "

Speakers at the protest included Conservative Opposition Leader Brian Pallister, Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard, radio personality Charles Adler, anti-poverty activist Harry Wolbert and representatives with the sponsoring organizations.

Selinger was invited but his staff said he had a prior commitment Thursday evening.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2013 B1

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Updated on Friday, May 3, 2013 at 6:29 AM CDT: replaces photo

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