Under the leadership of Brian Pallister, Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative party has done a masterful job over the last few months of painting the governing NDP as out-of-control spendthrifts who are addicted to other people’s money.
And with recent polls showing a bottoming out of popular support for the NDP over the course of the year, it’s not surprising that Pallister would want to continue that success.
However, Pallister’s Tuesday call for either a referendum or a snap election over the NDP’s PST hike was an unfortunate calculation, considering that there’s no way thoughtful Manitobans — let alone NDP Premier Greg Selinger and his party — would ever take it seriously.
While Pallister’s comments certainly got a few small headlines in the Winnipeg Free Press and the Brandon Sun, we believe it did more to undermine the good work the Tories have done these last few months than aid their efforts.
The government had already tabled legislation earlier this year that would allow it to raise the PST without a referendum, as outlined under the Balanced Budget Act, which was implemented under the previous Filmon government. The PST legislation, Bill 20, is slated to come up for a vote once the house resumes sitting on Nov. 12.
Of course, the NDP has decided to follow the province’s fixed election law instead, saying there will not be an election until Oct. 6, 2015 — unless there’s a federal election, in which case the new date would be April 19, 2016.
Make no mistake, Pallister and his caucus have kept the NDP on their heels with their summer filibuster by hammering home the message to Manitobans that the premier lied during the last election when he promised no tax increases, and by fanning Manitobans’ obvious dislike for the provincial tax increase.
They have translated that furor into potential votes as Selinger and his party have steadily dropped in public opinion polls. The Tories have done exactly what they needed to do.
With the Tories in a substantially better position going into the fall session of the legislature, Pallister’s rhetoric seemed forced and unnecessary — it was a bit like asking a man standing in front of a firing squad what kind of gun he wanted aimed at his head. It would have been almost comical if he hadn’t been so serious.
Pallister reasoned that an election should be called soon anyway, especially after the Canadian Taxpayers Federation revealed the NDP ignored the advice of government bureaucrats in raising the PST.
“That tells you the level to which this government has sunk,” Pallister said.
But Selinger’s NDP is obviously not the first governing party to ignore sound financial advice — and it likely won’t be the last.
In 2006, the federal Conservative government, for example, ignored warnings by senior federal bureaucrats that the party’s plans to impose new automatic prison terms would not deter crime nor protect the public.
A briefing, obtained through an Access to Information request that was made by the CanWest News Service at that time, showed the Harper government ignored the advice from Justice Department lawyers who suggested that research into mandatory minimum sentences showed that they “do not have any obvious special deterrent or educative effect and are no more effective than less serious sanctions in preventing crime.”
And yet, the federal Conservatives marched forward with new tough-on-crime legislation that substantially increased incarceration costs and tied the hands of courts across the country.
We can only assume that the federal government was convinced it was the politically expedient thing to do, for it didn’t hurt them — the federal Tories finally won a majority government in 2011 after years of governing with a minority.
That governments of all stripes lie with impunity and ignore sound advice is hardly surprising. And politicians wonder why voters have become so apathetic.
Last July, Pallister said that his party had retained a prominent Winnipeg lawyer to ask a judge to declare Bill 20 invalid. But that can only go forward after Bill 20 is passed.
At some point in the near future, and whether the Progressive Conservatives and Manitobans like it or not — which we don’t — the PST legislation will pass and become law.
If the Tories can then prove that the law was forced illegally upon Manitobans through the lack of a prior referendum, they will gain far more traction with the public than they ever could with political grandstanding.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 17, 2013