POLITICS
06/27/2014 01:03 EDT | Updated 08/27/2014 05:59 EDT

Manitoba Opposition leader says fight over sales tax increase will continue

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Opposition Leader Brian Pallister says he will continue to fight the government's sales tax increase, despite opinion polls that suggest the battle is not winning over many voters.

Pallister says he'd rather be respected than popular and the tax hike is hurting families across the province.

Recent opinion polls suggest the NDP government's popularity has dropped sharply since the sales tax jumped to eight per cent from seven last summer.

But the government's losses have gone mostly to the Liberals or the undecided camp.

Tory support in a Probe Research poll this week was pegged at 45 per cent — very close to the 43.5 per cent the party won in the 2011 election.

The Tories dragged out the legislature session last year to try to block the tax hike, and took the issue to court, arguing the increase violated the province's balanced budget law.

The judge in the case has reserved his decision.

The NDP government has said the extra cash was needed to finance road work, flood-prevention projects and other infrastructure.

"(Pallister's) decision to roll back the one-point increase in the PST would immediately mean reducing spending on roads, bridges, flood protection and clean water infrastructure by $276 million," government press secretary Caedmon Malowany wrote in an email.

Pallister said the tax jump must be reversed.

"I respect Manitobans ... and I respect the fact that they deserve to get more out of what they do, when they work and when they save, than they're getting in this province under the NDP."

Pallister has said he would reverse the sales tax increase in his first term if he were elected premier. He has also promised he would cut government spending by not filling some public-sector jobs when they became vacant.

He repeated a pledge Friday to not layoff any front-line civil servants if elected. He said his plan is very different from the 100,000 public sector cuts promised by Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak in the Ontario election.

"I felt that the approach that was taken by the Ontario campaign team was irresponsible and dangerous, and it's not the approach we would take."

Many public-sector workers are approaching retirement age in the next five years, Pallister said, and non-essential positions could be cut through attrition.