WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s governing NDP “thumbed its nose” at taxpayers and broke the law when it increased the provincial sales tax last year, a lawyer for the Opposition argued in court Wednesday.
Robert Tapper, who is representing the Progressive Conservative party in a lawsuit that challenges the tax hike, told court the NDP broke the law because it didn’t hold a referendum on the change.
Instead, the government suspended that requirement at the same time as it introduced the tax increase.
The government hasn’t even tried to justify its actions, Tapper said.
“All the government says is, ‘Because we can,'” he said. “Like the schoolyard bully, it took its football home. You have to wonder what they were thinking?”
The government broke an election promise last July not to raise taxes and upped the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven. The New Democrats had to suspend a section of the balanced budget law that required a referendum on any increase to provincial sales, income or payroll taxes.
The NDP could have introduced a bill separately to sidestep that referendum rather than attach it to a budget bill that required all government members of the legislature to vote in favour or risk toppling the government, Tapper said.
“Why do it in one bill?” Tapper asked. “Was it arrogance?”
He suggested the government disregarded Manitobans when it overruled it own law.
“Perhaps they don’t want to say out loud,” he said. “They don’t care if the people of Manitoba have a say.”
In its written submissions, the NDP has said the government had the right to raise the sales tax and sidestep a referendum.
Government lawyer Jonathan Kroft said a right to a referendum is not required or protected under the Charter of Rights. He argued the provincial government has a right to manage the economy and change laws freely.
The government has said it had to raise the sales tax to make important investments in infrastructure.
Lawyers wrapped up arguments Wednesday afternoon. Queen’s Bench judge Kenneth Hanssen has reserved his decision. He did not say how long he will take to make a ruling.
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