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Manitoba Opposition calls for election as legislature summer break begins

WINNIPEG - Manitoba politicians began their summer break from the legislature Thursday with a parting call from the Opposition for a snap election over the government's sales tax increase.

"I ask the premier again, will he do the right thing — go across to the lieutenant governor's residence, knock on the door and say, 'Call an election. I'm resigning?'" Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister asked in the last question period of the spring.

Premier Greg Selinger pointed out that Pallister is more familiar with resigning, since he left his seat in 1997 to run federally before returning to provincial politics in 2012.

Debate over last year's sales tax increase dominated debate throughout the sitting that began in March.

The NDP broke a 2011 campaign promise by raising the tax one percentage point to eight per cent, and the Tories have kept the issue alive by taking the government to court. They say the tax hike was illegal because the government changed the province's balanced budget law that required a referendum on any sales tax increase. The judge has reserved his decision.

Selinger has responded to Tory attacks by saying the sales tax increase was needed to pay for road repair, flood-fighting projects and other infrastructure. He said the Tories would cut government services.

"We believe we've made substantial progress for Manitobans, provided good jobs to Manitobans, building roads and flood protection for Manitobans," Selinger said in the chamber.

Opinion polls over the last nine months have suggested NDP support has dropped sharply. Selinger has consistently said he plans to run again in the next election, slated for April 2016, and told the chamber Thursday he looks forward to "doing much more" on his priority issues.

The spring sitting saw more than 30 bills passed into law, including a ban on the use of synthetic chemical pesticides on lawns, playgrounds and other areas. It is to take effect next January.

Another new law will ban the sale of flavoured tobacco products, except for menthol items. The government said flavoured cigarillos and other products can appeal to teens and lure them into smoking.

Some other laws that received final approval Thursday are aimed at consumer protection. One will require clear advertising — including the full price — for Internet, telephone and cable television services. Another sets out new limits on high-interest loans and lines of credit.

"We know that people want a fair deal and we know that in many cases, people don't feel it's a fair deal," government house leader Andrew Swan said.

Other new laws will:

— Make adoption records easier to access for birth parents and children who are trying to find each other.

— Require social workers in child welfare to report any time a child is seriously injured.

— Protect the identity of police officers by no longer including their names in an annual report that disclose public salaries.

— Require contractors who bid on government projects to employ apprentices.

There was no word on when the legislature might return. Usually there is a brief fall sitting that starts in mid-November with a throne speech that spells out the government's agenda for the coming year.

Swan said no date had been set for the throne speech this year.

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