04/18/2013 12:10 EDT | Updated 06/18/2013 05:12 EDT

NDP says referendum should be held to bring back HST for heating in Nova Scotia

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's NDP government wants to ensure several provincial HST exemptions on certain products can't be reversed without a referendum, a move the opposition parties say isn't needed.

Products that are exempt from the 10-per-cent portion of the HST include home heating, books and children's clothing.

The measure requiring a referendum to be held is contained in the government's Financial Measures Act, which was tabled Thursday.

Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald said the public should have a say before any future government brings back the HST on items the NDP says are essential.

"It's always been our position that those things should never have been subjected to HST and that's why we took the HST off," said MacDonald.

Premier Darrell Dexter accused the opposition parties of planning to put the HST back on home energy bills.

"If they were in government, I believe one of the first things they would do is put the HST back on home energy," he said.

But Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said he doesn't know why the government feels a referendum would be necessary.

"No political party to my knowledge is talking about reversing any of these HST cuts," McNeil said.

The Finance Department says the NDP government reinstated an HST exemption on electricity for heating that was removed by the previous Progressive Conservative government in October 2009. Exemptions for children's clothing, footwear, diapers and feminine hygiene products were implemented by the NDP in July 2010.

However, exemptions for books, first-time home buyers, heritage property renovations, fire fighting equipment and for people with disabilities who buy computers or new vehicles were brought in by the Progressive Conservatives in 1997.

Tory Leader Jamie Baillie called the referendum provision a pre-election ploy, adding it was the NDP government that increased the HST by two percentage points over two years beginning in 2010.

"Nova Scotians will see it for what it is, an empty commitment. We'd actually put in law that there has to be a referendum for any change upward in the HST."

Dexter said there is no need for a referendum on raising the HST since the government has already legislated one percentage point cuts in 2014 and 2015. That will bring the HST down to 13 per cent.

"Those (referendums) are in place in other jurisdictions," Dexter said. "That has never been part of the public discussion in our province."

Finance Department figures show the overall cost of the provincial exemptions is $136.7 million with the biggest costs being for energy at $105 million. The exemption on children's clothing is worth $11.9 million and books $10.8 million.