New Brunswick Premier David Alward said he wouldn’t raise the HST without a referendum and just a few weeks ago, he ruled out having one.

However, now he seems to be opening up to the possibility as his government struggles to balance its books.

The HST currently stands at 13 per cent and during the 2010 election Alward promised he would not raise it.

“The only way to go forward with an HST hike, is to go forward with a referendum,” says Alward.

For the first time, Alward says he is open to the idea of doing just that, which is a shift in thinking from his interview with CTV News last month.

“The only way HST could be done would be something like bringing forward a referendum,” said Alward in December.

“Are you willing to do that?” questioned CTV anchor Steve Murphy.

“No, no I’m not,” said Alward.

Since then, Finance Minister Blaine Higgs has been touring the province and holding public meetings about the March budget which is expected to be a challenging one, as the deficit is forecast to reach $356 million.

“We have revenue problems we were not expecting,” says Alward.

The official opposition says Alward made too many promises during the 2010 election, but that he should stick to them, no matter how difficult.

“Governing is about making tough decisions,” says Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau. “It’s black and white. It’s his platform, so that, to me, is the referendum. He won based on that promise.”

Officials in the Finance Department estimate an increase of 2 per cent on the HST could bring in an additional $270 million in provincial revenue.

Alward says a clear decision will be given about the hypothetical referendum in the March budget, if not before. 

With files from CTV Atlantic's Nick Moore