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Tories use same poll for new attack on NDP

PCs' survey links discontent to PST hike

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister says his party has 'a lot of work to do.'

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Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister says his party has 'a lot of work to do.' (MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES)

Opposition Leader Brian Pallister has released the second half of a Progressive Conservative-commissioned poll critical of the governing NDP and its PST increase.

It is the second time since the legislature adjourned last Thursday that Pallister has used poll results to bash the government for raising the provincial sales tax one percentage point to eight per cent from seven.

It appears the Conservative strategy is to ride voter anger against the tax increase well into the new year and beyond.

The Tories have already indicated they plan to sue the government for not first holding a referendum before raising the tax, as the law previously dictated. That requirement wasn't formally overturned until Bill 20 was passed last week. The lawsuit will likely be filed some time in the new year.

On Tuesday, citing more results from a poll they recently commissioned, the Conservatives said 50 per cent of Manitobans feel the province is on the wrong track.

Pallister said the survey linked much of the discontent to the July 1 PST increase.

"Only one in 10 Manitobans (11 per cent) feel strongly that Manitoba is going in the right direction. Of those who feel that the province is on the wrong track, the correlation between those who also oppose the PST is 91 per cent," he told reporters Tuesday.

Overall, 37 per cent of poll respondents felt strongly or were somewhat convinced the province is heading in the right direction. Of the 50 per cent who felt the province got off track, more than half (27 per cent overall) strongly held that view. Thirteen per cent said they were unsure or undecided.

Kelly Saunders, a Brandon University political scientist, said it's a long time before the next provincial election, expected in spring 2016, and the Tories must do more than just hammer away at the PST if they want to form government.

"Rarely do voters go to the polls and defeat a government on the basis of a single issue," she said Tuesday. Pocketbook issues matter, but so do health care, education, roads and other factors, said Saunders. "The Tories are going to have to show that they have a solid plan."

Perhaps anticipating such an analysis, Pallister made a point at his earlier press conference of saying his party has started research projects to develop new policies on concerns such as infrastructure renewal and hospital wait times.

He said until the next election approaches, the Tories are unlikely to launch major advertising campaigns. Instead, they will devote their resources to policy consultation and development.

"We have a lot of work to do to become a party of greater substance and greater value to Manitobans," Pallister said.

The polling data released Tuesday showed city residents were significantly more optimistic about the province's direction than their rural counterparts. Forty-four per cent of Winnipeggers felt the province is heading in the right direction compared with just 27 per cent outside the city.

Last week, the Tories released results from the same early-December poll indicating 77 per cent of Manitobans opposed the PST increase, with 63 per cent strongly opposed.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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