Manitoba Tories challenge PST hike
WINNIPEG—Manitoba’s governing NDP “thumbed its nose” at taxpayers and broke the law when it increased the provincial sales without holding a referendum, a lawyer for the Opposition argued in court yesterday.
Robert Tapper, who is representing the Progressive Conservative party in a lawsuit that challenges the tax hike, told court the NDP was bound by its own legislation to consult the public first.
The government hasn’t even tried to justify its actions, Tapper noted.
“All the government says is, ‘Because we can,’” he told Justice Kenneth Hanssen.
“Like the schoolyard bully, it took its football home,” he added. “You have to wonder what they were thinking?”
The government broke an election promise last July not to raise taxes and upped the provincial sales tax to eight percent from seven.
The New Democrats also had to suspend a section of the balanced budget law that required a referendum on any increase to provincial sales, income, or payroll taxes.
The NDP could have introduced a bill separately to sidestep that referendum rather than attach it to a budget bill, which required all government members of the legislature to vote in favour or risk toppling the government, Tapper said.
“Why do it in one bill?” he asked. “Was it arrogance?”
Tapper suggested the government disregarded Manitobans when it overruled it own law.
“Perhaps they don’t want to say out loud,” he said. “They don’t care if the people of Manitoba have a say.”
The NDP said the government had the right to raise the sales tax and sidestep a referendum.
Government lawyer Jonathan Kroft said a right to a referendum is not required or protected under the Charter of Rights.
“There is no constitutional right to a referendum,” he remarked.
“If you can never grant a referendum, except if you do it forever, you can never have a referendum.”
People were able to express their opinions through committee hearings, Kroft noted. He also argued the provincial government has a right to manage the economy and change laws freely.
No court should be able to dictate what the legislature chooses to discuss, he argued.
“We can’t bind them and we can’t tie their hands,” Kroft told the judge.
“The court is being invited to tell the legislature what it could and couldn’t talk about,” he added.
The judge reserved his decision.