Privatization, expanded Sunday shopping, tax cuts and arts audits are among the long list of ideas up for debate at this weekend's annual general meeting of the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives.

The opposition party's gathering comes at a time when the Tories are leading in opinion polls, and facing accusations from the NDP government of harbouring plans to gut government services.

One resolution, put forward by the party's Riel constituency association in south Winnipeg, says the province should "withdraw from any service delivery activities that compete, unfairly due to its regulatory power, with Manitobans' freedom and opportunity." The provincial liquor commission is mentioned as a specific example.

The resolution also calls for the public to be allowed to buy stock in government enterprises.

"Such former government enterprises would then operate in fair competition with other Manitoban providers of such services," the resolution reads.

Even if the resolution is passed, it would not be binding on the Tories should they form government. Resolutions are an expression of party members' positions. The NDP government, for example, has never acted on its members' resolutions calling for a ban on replacement workers during strikes or lockouts.

Heather Stefanson, a legislature member who co-chairs the party's policy committee, would not comment on the merits of any of the 69 resolutions up for debate this weekend.

"We are a democratic party and we'll be leaving that up to the party membership and the delegates to decide," Stefanson said Tuesday.

Only a small number of resolutions — between 10 and 15 — are likely to be debated in the allotted time this weekend, Stefanson added. The rest will be examined by a new policy committee for future discussion.

The other resolutions touch on a wide range on topics — from retail store hours to cultural subsidies.

One resolution calls for an end to the current limits on Sunday shopping, which forbid most stores from remaining open after 6 p.m. Retailers should set their own hours on Sunday, but holiday openings should continue to be regulated, the resolution from the Southdale constituency group reads.

A resolution from the Lac Du Bonnet Tory constituency calls for an audit of all arts and cultural activities that receive government funding "to ensure they are being run effectively and are financially sound."

Many other resolutions express support for current Tory positions, such as:

  • a plan to index income tax brackets to the rate of inflation.
  • a pledge to reroute the planned BiPole Three hydro transmission line to the east side of Lake Winnipeg to save money.
  • a promise to undo this year's sales tax increase.

The government increased the tax to eight per cent from seven per cent on July 1. Finance Minister Stan Struthers has said the money is needed for infrastructure projects and to maintain front-line services.

Struthers has repeatedly said the Tories would implement severe cuts. Tory Leader Brian Pallister has maintained the tax cut could be avoided by simply leaving some civil service positions unfilled and asking departments for greater efficiencies.

The Tories' three-day meeting will include a fundraising speech by Pallister on Saturday.