Politics
Selling Manitobans on PST

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, at a press conference in Winnipeg after the Western Premier's Conference.

Credits: QMI AGENCY

JOYANNE PURSAGA | QMI AGENCY

WINNIPEG -- Is Manitoba trying to "sell" its PST hike one ribbon-cutting at a time?

The contentious provincial sales tax hike from 7% to 8% takes effect Monday, following what Progressive Conservatives describe as a funding announcement blitz to attract voter support for the hike.

The province staged 61 funding announcements in the 60 days after the 2013 budget, up from 39 during the same period after the 2012 budget, news releases show.

Of the 2013 announcements, 22 release titles specifically mention the budget or the "Building and Renewal Plan" (10-year tax hike).

For both years, this includes several "re-announcements" of funding commitments.

"This ribbon-cutting tour is $1 billion of announcements that are being financed by deficits and by broken-promise taxes," PC Leader Brian Pallister said.

The Tories accuse the NDP of delaying the Morris byelection to dole out cash to splash pads, schools and more since election rules prohibit promoting government programs during such campaigns.

"Clearly they're delaying a byelection with the simple hope that they can continue to sell Manitobans (on) paying higher taxes to support their ribbon-cutting exercise," Pallister said. "This comes at the expense of the democratic rights of the people."

The Morris seat was left vacant after Mavis Taillieu announced her retirement in February.

Premier Greg Selinger pointed out that only one byelection has been called when the house was in session in the last 30 years.

MLAs are in the midst of an emergency summer session to address legislation meant to implement the tax hike without a referendum and other bills.

"We're focussed on getting the work done, that's our priority right now," Selinger said.

The premier stressed funding announcements aren't meant to manipulate Manitobans but to share how their tax dollars are invested.

"We're making very specific announcements, both that will have immediate benefits, in terms of employment and jobs, but also do the long-term decision-making," said Selinger, who has vowed to devote all new tax revenues to infrastructure.

Royce Koop, a University of Manitoba politics professor, said the NDP is far from alone in its affinity for public funding commitments. Leaders across Canada routinely make three or four announcements of one project before it is completed, Koop said.

But Koop warned the perception of a spending spree could prove damaging while the Manitoba government blames part of its need for more tax dollars on a tough economy.

"The NDP has maintained they need to raise the PST for infrastructure. I'm not sure going on a blitz of spending announcements is wise," Koop said.

Koop said it would be tough to prove that the array of funding commitments intends to "sell" the PST.

But he said the increased frequency of spending releases this year indicates it is part of a deliberate communications strategy.

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