The legislative battle over the Selinger government's decision to hike the provincial sales tax to eight per cent could extend beyond its implementation date of July 1.
The Conservative Opposition is employing seldom-used tactics in the legislature to delay passage of Bill 20 in the legislature. Meanwhile, government house leader Jennifer Howard said NDP MLAs were prepared to sit through the summer, if need be, to get their legislative agenda passed. The house is scheduled to rise on June 13.
"I don't have anywhere to be this summer. So I'm happy to be here and listen to the debate," Howard said after question period Wednesday.
'Our commitment to Manitobans is to give the government every opportunity to change its mind...'
That raises the possibility Bill 20 -- which allows the government to bypass a required voter referendum on a retail sales hike -- may not be passed before July. And there's a remote possibility the 170 Manitobans registered to speak on the bill at committee will not have been heard by then.
Opposition MLAs can't prevent a determined government, backed by a large majority of MLAs, from passing its bills. But prolonged debate -- backed by public anger -- can place increased pressure on the government.
"Our commitment to Manitobans is to give the government every opportunity to change its mind and to give people every opportunity to be involved in helping the government change its mind," Opposition house leader Kelvin Goertzen said.
Also on Wednesday, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) released the results of an Angus Reid survey of 500 Manitobans that found 74 per cent want a referendum on the PST increase.
The CFIB was one of three organizations behind a protest at the legislative building last week that drew about 500 Manitobans in opposition to the retail sales tax hike.
On Wednesday, Janine Carmichael, a CFIB spokeswoman, didn't rule out a legal challenge to the tax hike if Bill 20 is not passed before Canada Day. "We have thought about it. It's not our area of expertise so we would have to do a lot more digging," she said.
The Opposition Conservatives have delayed passage of Bill 20 by repeatedly challenging rulings by the house Speaker and demanding recorded votes in the house.
On Tuesday, the PCs introduced a "reasoned amendment" to the bill at second reading -- essentially a motion to shelve the bill. "I think that's the third time in the history of the legislature that's happened," Goertzen said. He added the party may introduce a similar amendment at third reading.
Another possibility is the introduction of a "hoist" motion to put off debate of the bill for three to six months. Again, the government can easily defeat such a motion, but it takes time as all MLAs are allowed 30 minutes each to speak to it.
Meanwhile, individual Tory MLAs are also speaking for hours at a time on other bills to generally slow down the business of the house.
The NDP's Howard said the government is unconcerned about having to pass Bill 20 before July 1. She said there are lots of precedents in Canadian law in which governments imposed or increased taxes before implementation bills were passed.
"All of our budgets are supported by tax revenue. If every tax measure couldn't be implemented until the budget bill passed, you would have every opposition party be able to take us to the fiscal cliff every time there was a budget. That's not the way we've operated in Manitoba," she said.
But Goertzen argued this area of common law does not allow government to usurp the requirement for a public referendum.