Manitoba's Progressive Conservative opposition has lost its court battle over the NDP government's increasing the provincial sales tax to 8 per cent without holding a referendum.
The Tories contended that the NDP government broke the law because it didn't hold a referendum on the tax increase, which was required under the province's balanced budget legislation. But the government suspended that requirement when it introduced the increase.
Justice Kenneth R. Hanssen said in his decision released Friday that the PC Party is an "unincorporated association," and as such did not have a right to file the motion.
"I am satisfied the PC Party has no legal capacity to bring this application," Hanssen wrote. "As Mr. Pallister has failed to persuade me there is any basis for the court to grant the relief he is seeking, I am dismissing the application."
Hanssen disagreed with Pallister's argument, that depriving Manitobans of their say in a referendum violated their freedom of expression guaranteed by the Charter.
The judge wrote, "I do not agree. There is no constitutional right to a referendum in Canada."
Hanssen said the Charter "imposes no obligation on a government to implement a referendum or to maintain a referendum it has previously established."
Tories disappointed, NDP not surprised
The Tories said Friday the judge's decision is disappointing news.
"We're not disappointed for us so much as we are for all Manitobans who are opposed to the PST hike and I think that is just about everybody," said party spokesperson Mike Brown.
He said the party will spend the weekend reviewing the decision.
But government spokesperson Matt Williamson said the NDP is not surprised by the judge's ruling.
"We have said from the beginning that this case was nothing more than a political stunt by the PC party," he said in an email.
"This decision means that the province’s record level of infrastructure investments will proceed as planned," Williamson said. "That’s good news for Manitobans."
What's probably not good news for Manitobans, however, is that the province spent more than $150,000 in legal costs responding to the PC's court challenge.
Williamson said the government is also reviewing the decision and will be speaking to its lawyers about whether it will pursue the Tories to recoup those costs.
Read the judge's full decision here.