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Ignatieff on side with HST, McGuinty says

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff won't block tax harmonization in Ontario if his party forms the next government, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.

"We have secured Mr. Ignatieff's commitment to moving ahead with the single sales tax should he earn the privilege of serving Canadians in government," Mr. McGuinty said.

He also hinted that the federal Liberals wouldn't stop British Columbia from merging its provincial sales tax with the federal GST, either.

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"I believe that both B.C. and Ontario will secure the necessary commitments from any potential federal government to move ahead with a single sales tax, so I'm confident in that," he said.

Mr. Ignatieff, who has withdrawn his party's support of the minority Conservative government, denounced what he called the "Harper Sales Tax" while visiting British Columbia two weeks ago.

He criticized the Tories for pushing harmonization during a recession, then trying to disavow its role in convincing Ontario and B.C. to move ahead with it.

"And we think that's dishonest," he said. "They're fully implicated in this decision and they should take responsibility for it."

Mr. Ignatieff was not immediately available to comment, but Vancouver Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh insisted Tuesday that there's no inconsistency in Ignatieff's position.

"It's absolutely inappropriate and cruel for a federal government to be pushing harmonization in the middle of a deep recession when people are in economic difficulty," said Mr. Dosanjh, who has crusaded against tax harmonization in B.C.

"That is not to say that if we form government somehow an agreement that's been entered into by a previous federal government with a province, that we would wreck that or destroy that. You don't do that kind of stuff."

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The Ontario Progressive Conservatives have made similar arguments, saying they oppose the single tax while remaining silent on whether they'll repeal it.

The contentious scheme has many politicians performing rhetorical contortions to maintain a safe distance from the kind of disaster that befell other governments who switched to a single tax.

The public uproar over harmonization in Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan in the 1990s contributed to the defeat of both provincial governments. Saskatchewan later repealed the single sales tax.

The move will increase the cost of many items previous exempt from the provincial levy, which has struck a nerve with consumers in both Ontario and British Columbia.

Thousands of residents have signed petitions protesting the tax change, which will hike the cost of coffee, funerals and even haircuts.

Several federal Tories have publicly distanced themselves from harmonization, saying Ottawa had nothing to do with it, even though it's kicking in billions of dollars to make it happen.

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Ottawa is providing $4.3-billion to Ontario and $1.6-billion to British Columbia to make the change, which could be derailed by a federal election since it requires both provincial and federal legislation.

An election could be triggered as early as Friday, but the federal NDP is now signalling it will prop up the government in order to pass legislation to extend EI benefits.

Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador harmonized their sales taxes with the federal GST more than 10 years ago.

Quebec partially harmonized its sales tax system and Alberta has no provincial tax, leaving Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island as the remaining holdout provinces.

With a report from Joan Bryden in Ottawa

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