The prospect of a new health-care tax isn't sitting well with some people in rural Manitoba, who are already concerned about changes to rural emergency medical services announced earlier this year.
"Several of my ratepayers are seeing it as another negative," said Scott Phillips, a councillor in the Rural Municipality of Sifton in southwestern Manitoba. The ambulance in the town of Oak Lake, Man. — which currently serves the RM of Sifton — is being moved to Virden as part of an overhaul of Manitoba's EMS system.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister warned Wednesday that Manitobans will have to start paying health-care premiums, as residents in some other provinces already do, or prepare to see services cut.
The premium could mean rural Manitobans pay more for what they feel is a cut in services.
About two dozen ambulance garages are either being moved or closed as part of a plan announced in June that the Manitoba government and the Paramedics Association of Manitoba bill as a way to improve service and staffing in rural Manitoba.
"These cutbacks are really hurting rural Manitobans," Phillips said.
"'When does it end?' is what we ask," he said.
"We try to promote rural growth and economic development, and the [Manitoba government] is sure making it tough to promote that."
'Nobody is going to be happy'
"That's not going to go over very well," said Lyle Morran, the mayor of Grandview, Man. The town is is also losing its local ambulance service.
"Nobody is going to be happy with that situation," he said, adding that details are still scarce on the proposed health premium.
"That's the trouble with any announcement like that," he said. "The details are never with it at the same time, so you don't know what is proposed."
Morran said he realizes the province is dealing with financial challenges and thinks people in his town may be willing to entertain the idea of a premium if it meant they would maintain the health services they have now.
"I guess if it was a step towards saving our services I'd have to be in favour of it," he said.
The province is asking Manitobans to weigh in on the plan for premiums through a new online survey.
There is no word yet on how much Manitobans would pay if health premiums are introduced here.