5 new schools part of what Brian Pallister calls Manitoba's 'best budget ever'
Commitments to new schools and climate change details part of Progressive Conservatives' 3rd budget
Premier Brian Pallister wants everyone in this province to know "Manitobans are going to love this budget!" and doubled down on that statement Friday, promising it would be "the best budget ever."
Pallister made the the prediction at the end of a news conference on economic development strategy that featured a report from Deloitte consultants. The report warned Manitobans to expect a meagre 0.3 per cent increase in GDP for 2018 — a drop of 2.5 percentage points from the 2017 figure.
In making the prediction, Deloitte cited Manitoba's lack of an "overarching" economic development strategy and the need for a centralized but arm's-length economic development agency.
Deloitte's predictions are a motivator to do better, the premier said Friday.
Business gets a break
The province will provide some relief to businesses with a change to the threshold at which companies start to pay taxes. The budget will increase the starting point for taxes on businesses from $450,000 to $500,000 net income.
"We have fallen behind other provinces. It is an important signal of competitiveness. We are taking that step in this budget to close that gap," Friesen said.
Each of the Progressive Conservative budgets has a theme title, from Correcting the Course for this government's first budget to Responsible Recovery last year.
The 2018 Tory budget's headline is "Keeping our Promises."
"What we are doing today is updating Manitobans and letting them know what are we doing to keep our promises," Friesen said.
New schools in Winnipeg, Brandon
A source in the provincial government with knowledge of the budget said it will include funding for the construction of five new schools.
Originally the government considered using public-private partnerships to build four schools, going as far as commissioning a business study last May.
The source said the business case for using the P3 model looked positive and was passed along to Manitoba's Public Schools Finance Board for review.
That board weighed it against using what's called an "enhanced conventional procurement approach," which incorporates bulk purchasing of material and using modular building designs across all the construction projects.
In the end, the enhanced approach was predicted to be more cost-effective, and the province will green-light the construction of the five schools in the budget.
The new schools are:
- A kindergarten to Grade 8 school in the Brandon School Division.
- One kindergarten to Grade 8 and one Grade 9-12 school in Waverley West.
- A kindergarten to Grade 5 school in Winnipeg's Seven Oaks School Division.
- A kindergarten to Grade 8 school in the Waterford Green neighbourhood, which is part of the Winnipeg School Division.
The total cost of the new schools won't be known until after the work has been tendered.
Deficit number to come
Various ministers in the Progressive Conservative government and the premier himself have given other broad hints about the Tories' third budget.
Beyond the actual spending plans for the year, the province will also release its third-quarter results. Those numbers will give an indication of the PCs' deficit-fighting efforts and the broad fiscal health of Manitoba.
The last outlook was released in December and forecast the province's summary deficit at $827 million. But Pallister told Bloomberg News in late February "we're going to do better than we predicted" on cutting the deficit.
The premier and Finance Minister Cameron Friesen have both taken several opportunities to suggest there will be some tax relief for Manitobans, hitting that theme several times in the last few weeks.
This could come in the form of raising the basic personal tax exemption. It's a benchmark Pallister has often cited in comparison to Saskatchewan, where the threshold to start paying taxes is almost $7,000 higher.
Manitobans can also expect a modest decrease in ambulance fees, a long-awaited decision on whether to retain the film tax credit and a continuation of the PCs' effort to shrink the overall size of the government.
Climate change details
Despite initially butting heads with Ottawa over the "Made in Manitoba" climate change plan — setting the carbon tax at $25 per tonne right away and ignoring Ottawa's requirement to raise it to $50 in five years — Manitoba eventually signed onto the pan-Canadian climate change framework.
The agreement triggers approximately $67 million in federal funding for the province. The province faced losing those funds if it did not sign the deal before the end of February.
- Manitoba thumbs nose at Ottawa, sets own carbon tax scheme
- Manitoba signs federal climate-change plan
Ottawa has not signalled what specific action it might take if Manitoba refuses to eventually raise its carbon tax to the $50 per tonne level.
The budget today is also almost certain to outline how the carbon tax will be imposed and how taxpayers and industries, such as agriculture, may be sheltered from it.
Carbon tax will go back to Manitobans
Pallister indicated Friday his government will mitigate the impact of the tax.
"What are we doing with the carbon tax? It's going back to Manitobans," he said.
Curt Hull, with Climate Change Connection, said a third of Manitoba's greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. The transportation sector emits 40 per cent of greenhouse gases and stationary combustion sources (heating buildings) nearly 20 per cent of the total, he said.
"If we are going to make emission reductions happen, we have to target those sectors," Hull said.
That means to make the biggest impact, we need to find alternatives to traditional agriculture methods, incentives for trucking firms to modernize their fleets and ways to make buildings more efficient.
Hull also said the province should not only consider helping the City of Winnipeg purchase electric buses, but increase operating funding for Winnipeg Transit to make the system a more viable alternative for drivers.
CBC's coverage of Manitoba's third budget under Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservative government begins early Monday morning on cbc.ca/manitoba and CBC Radio One, and will continue into the evening on CBC News at 6.