During the 2011 provincial election campaign, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger called the idea that his government would raise the sales tax “ridiculous.”
“That’s total nonsense, everybody knows that,” Selinger said.
Of course, a little more than a year later the provincial government introduced Bill 20, which raised the PST by a percentage point to eight per cent, while additionally excusing the government from a Gary Filmon-era balanced budget law that required it to hold a referendum before raising the tax.
In short, the premier either lied to voters during the campaign or he casually broke his promise just a few months later. There are documents suggesting the former. It was dishonest, and makes us question any future campaign promise that he will make.
At that point in time, the Progressive Conservatives under Hugh McFadyen were absolutely correct when they postulated that it would take many years to bring about a balanced budget again in Manitoba, not the short time frame initially posited by the NDP.
Unfortunately, the Tories lost that high ground last Friday, when Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Kenneth Hanssen tossed out a bid to reverse the province’s tax hike by Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister.
In a 15-page decision, Hanssen spelled out in no uncertain terms that the Tory leader had no legal leg to stand on.
“Mr. Pallister argues that by increasing the (PST) without complying with the procedure of the (Balanced Budget Act) Manitoba infringed the rights of Manitoba citizens to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Charter,” Hanssen said. “He argues that voting in a referendum is an expressive activity. He maintains that as Bill 20 exempted the increase in the (PST) from the referendum requirement in the BBA, it affected the expressive activity of citizens of Manitoba and thereby violated their freedom of expression.
“I do not agree. There is no constitutional right to a referendum in Canada. Mr. Pallister has failed to satisfy me that the Charter is engaged in this case.”
On the issue of Filmon’s 1995 Taxpayer Protection Act, the judge suggested the Tories were trying to bind future legislative bodies “to the substance of its future legislation,” something that is prevented by the notion of parliamentary supremacy — the intrinsic democratic principle that a government should not attempt to restrict the actions of a future government.
In this case, we believe the Progressive Conservatives were right to challenge the NDP over the PST increase, but not in a court of law. Pallister must have known this court case was never going to move forward. And if he didn’t, he or his brain trust should have.
Quite obviously, this has been little more than a publicity stunt aimed at earning votes at the ballot box, and really had nothing to do with the court of law. What Pallister told reporters yesterday in Winnipeg proves that point.
“There is a court, and we can appeal to that court, and that court would be the greatest court Manitoba has in my estimation, and that is the court of public opinion,” Pallister said, hinting that there would be no appeal of the court ruling.
Wasting time and money — including government (ie. taxpayer) money for defence lawyer fees — on a political stunt that could never bear fruit makes us question not only his ability as leader of the Progressive Conservatives, but the maturity of his party to lead this province.
It’s also worth noting that voter turnout in Manitoba has been declining for decades. Of the 777,054 registered voters in the 2011 election, little more than 55 per cent of them actually cast a ballot.
Is it any wonder Manitobans have grown wary of politicians?
We should expect better scruples from our politicians, of all stripes. When our elected officials are disingenuous with the facts and the reasons behind their actions, voters lose confidence in their leaders and the words ‘politician’ and ‘politics’ are further debased.