POLITICS

Opposition prepares for filibuster as Manitoba government juggles bills

06/05/2013 06:49 EDT | Updated 08/05/2013 05:12 EDT
WINNIPEG - Manitoba's Opposition Progressive Conservatives are preparing for a lengthy one-man filibuster — the latest in a series of moves that have blocked government legislation for weeks, including a bill to increase the provincial sales tax.

Tory house leader Kelvin Goertzen has been granted unlimited speaking time in the legislature on Bill 20, which will increase the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven per cent on July 1.

And he intends to use it, in part by listing the thousands of items covered by the tax.

"I'm going to speak for as long as I'm able to," Goertzen said Wednesday.

"I've got lots of examples of ... items that are going to be going up in price, where ordinary Manitobans are going to feel the pinch, and I expect to explain in great detail and some length how Manitobans are going to be hurt."

Goertzen was prepared to start his filibuster Wednesday, but the NDP government suspended debate on the bill and instead dealt with the budget estimates for various departments.

Those estimates, as well as dozens of other bills, have been stalled by the Tories since the spring sitting began in mid-April.

The Tories have used a variety of stalling tactics.

They've requested recorded votes on routine matters, which can prompt proceedings to halt for up to one hour as members are called to the chamber to vote.

They've raised procedural objections to legislature Speaker Darryl Reid — including a complaint by Goertzen that a New Democrat backbencher was using question period to ask irrelevant questions.

The Tories have also tried to move amendments to bills and put forward motions to suspend debate on some bills for six months. Each amendment or motion leads to more debate in the chamber, chewing up the clock.

As a result, bills to amalgamate municipalities, loosen liquor licencing for bars, set out new anti-bullying measures for schools and more have all been stalled. Departmental spending estimates have not been approved either.

There appears to be no end in sight, at least not in the immediate future.

Manitoba is one of the few provinces with mandatory public hearings on all legislation, and hundreds of people have signed up to get their minimum 10 minutes. Those hearings haven't even been scheduled yet.

The legislature normally breaks for the summer on the second Thursday in June, but NDP house leader Jennifer Howard said the government is prepared to sit through the summer if need be.

"Many of us have arranged our lives to be here through the summer," she said.

The NDP could invoke closure to end debate on any bill, but Howard has so far said that is not being considered. She also said the government is not considering delaying any legislation until fall.

One of the pressing matters for Howard is getting department spending estimates approved. The government doesn't run out of money if the estimates are not approved, but money for new initiatives and spending increases cannot flow until that happens.

That means a one per cent increase in funding for child care centres, for example, may be delayed, said Howard, who is also family services minister.

"For large institutions, they can absorb some of that ... but for small non-profits, that can be a real challenge."

Goertzen recognizes the NDP can have its way in the end, because it has a solid majority of legislature seats and can pass all its bills eventually. But he said the Tories would ideally like to take a stand and make the NDP rethink its position.

"We're not going to make it easy and we're going to put up every bit of resistance we can because I think that's what Manitobans expect from us."

Goertzen's filibuster stems from a legislature rule that grants the leader of any party unlimited speaking time on a bill. Tory Leader Brian Pallister has awarded his time to Goertzen.