06/04/2012 04:13 EDT | Updated 08/04/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba Opposition says premier is leaving room for sales tax increase

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said Monday he has no plans to raise the provincial sales tax, but appeared to stop short of ruling it out.

"We have no plans to do it and we said we wouldn't. The reality is our broad objective is to keep Manitoba one of the most affordable places to live, and we've maintained that in the top three (provinces)," Selinger said after question period.

An increase in the PST would require a referendum under current law. When asked whether he would change the law to do away with that requirement, Selinger again used the phrase "no plans" and then alluded to future fiscal challenges.

"That's the law right now. We have no plans to change it. When we do our budget consultations, we look at all the challenges on the table, some of which we don't see at the moment. We don't know what future challenges are specific to things like natural disasters or (federal) transfer payment issues."

Selinger has used similar wording since last week, when the Manitoba Federation of Labour joined a call by some business groups to raise the seven per cent PST to eight per cent to fund road repair and other infrastructure work. The federation put forward a resolution on the issue at the NDP's annual convention Saturday, but the matter was deferred.

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives said Selinger is leaving the door open to a tax hike.

"If he doesn't plan on raising the PST, let him stand today and say very clearly, 'I will never raise the PST,'" Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen said in the legislature.

Selinger responded by saying his government's spring budget kept Manitoba's cost of living lower than that of most other provinces.

The phrase "no plans" can be a loaded one in Manitoba politics. In last year's election, the NDP used it in attack ads against McFadyen. McFadyen had served as an adviser to former premier Gary Filmon, who privatized Manitoba Telephone Systems in 1996. The NDP highlighted the fact that Filmon had said in the previous year's election that he had "no plans" to privatize the phone company, but went back on his word.