A consensus of Nova Scotians who took part in public meetings approve of an HST increase, Finance Minister Graham Steele said yesterday.

Published government findings from this year’s 19 Back to Balance meetings involving 1,495 people show 80 per cent of them approved a one or two per cent hike in the HST.

“That is one of the things where I would say there is a consensus,” said Steele.

“The people who were opposed to an increase, they want me to say something different.

“But that is the consensus of the people who spent two hours engaging actively with this issue in context and all things considered.”

When asked whether this gives him the green light to raise the HST in the budget he paused for nine seconds before answering.

“Where there is a consensus, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that the government will likely act on it. But that’s as far as I’d go,” he said.

Last fall an economic advisory panel of experts recommended hiking the HST by two per cent to raise $250 million annually.

Backlash to the idea has ranged from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives saying it would disproportionately hurt the poor to the Progressive Conservatives saying it would cripple the economy.