Manitoba advocates want federal budget to help fight poverty, cut taxes

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau's budget may not have something for everyone when it's released Tuesday, but everyone wants something from Ottawa. Manitobans are no exception.

Housing shortage on First Nations, corporate tax rates on wish list for Manitobans

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau will deliver the 2018 federal budget in the House of Commons on Tuesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau may sport a pair of new shoes as he delivers the Liberal government's budget, but his ears should be well worn from listening to the hopes, wants and desires of a variety of Canadians and their advocates.

Manitoba, like all other provinces, has its needs and wants as well, though Morneau's discretionary spending is somewhat limited by existing programs and obligations as well as debt servicing.

Pulling as many people as possible out of poverty should be a priority for the budget, says Josh Brandon of the Social Planning Council and Make Poverty History initiative.

"We need to set clear targets and timelines for how we are going to reduce poverty in this country," Brandon said.

Brandon has been monitoring consultations centred on the federal poverty reduction strategy, but hopes what the Liberal government has promised in the past or is working toward in the future is supported in this budget.

He'd like to see increased support for childcare and a more progressive tax system for the working poor. A more aggressive delivery on the federal government's housing strategy is also a crucial initiative poverty advocates would like to see in the budget.

"The roll out of that strategy needs to happen much faster. So getting, right away, to implementing some action to build badly needed affordable housing in this country," Brandon said.

Trade with U.S. worries business owners

One group looking for some serious signals from this budget are business owners and leaders that trade with the United States. 

With the Trump administration's move to re-open NAFTA negotiations and changes to U.S. corporate tax policy, which include cuts to the rates companies pay, there is much concern about Canadian competitiveness.

Ron Koslowsky, Manitoba's vice president for Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, says one of the most important things coming out of a budget is the signal it sends to owners and investors in business.

"For us, it is really critical we get the business environment right. That the kind of encouragements, or incentives, if you will … or disincentives, are pointed in the right direction to encourage investment," Koslowsky said.

Otherwise, he said, opportunities will go elsewhere. 
NAFTA and U.S. President Donald Trump's corporate tax cuts have Canadian businesses looking for parity. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

To that end, Koslowsky's organization is playing close attention to how the federal government will react to American corporate taxes dropping significantly along with allowances to write off investments in equipment more rapidly.

"The short answer is yes ... it is no different than when a competitor down the street suddenly drops his or her price. You've got one of two things. You can either say, 'Well, I'm doing my own thing, I don't care what he or she does,' or you need to address that," Koslowsky said. 

Among other initiatives, the CME is calling on Ottawa to get an agreement with the provincial governments to combine and lower corporate tax rates to 20 per cent as well as match U.S. allowances to depreciate capital purchases in one year instead of the current two and a half.

$2-billion housing shortage

Indigenous leaders are eyeing the budget with their own list of priorities, but housing remains at the forefront.

Grand Chief Sheila North with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) says Manitoba has a $2-billion housing shortage and wants to see the federal government move much faster on improving the situation.

"If we don't have proper housing, which we don't, and we don't have enough of it, it creates tension and also instability and unhealthy communities," North said.

North says fire safety and policing infrastructure need improvement, and on those issues she hopes to see federal dollars go to commitments that were made earlier this year. She also would like to see more support for everything "that centres around the family," which includes child welfare. 
MKO Grand Chief Sheila North hopes there are federal dollars for Indigenous language education. (CBC)

The MKO grand chief hopes the days of waiting for each budget for commitments to First Nations are slowly drawing to a close. 

"I think it's time now we start looking at ways to support and implement the ideas of self-government because we don't want to go year after year begging for money for housing and child welfare and education. We should have those dollars accessible to our communities already," North said.

Green budget dreams 

Duncan Stokes with the Manitoba Eco Network is hoping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was sincere in his recent musings about securing more land in Canada for conservation.

"I know there is a goal to have 17 per cent of our country protected — both land and water — by 2020. We certainly support that goal," Stokes said.

Stokes is also hoping the federal government continues it's direction on slowing climate change through a number of methods, including "continued investments in clean energy and alternative energy sources. I think the growth in alternative energy ultimately will give consumers energy choices in the future, and I think it can be profitable for the private sector and/or the public utility that has the responsibility for managing it." 

Stokes says  any commitments to cleaning up Canada's waterways and supporting public transit would also be welcome.

'Stop paying for corporate welfare'

Todd MacKay, the Prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, is more than just a little uneasy with growing federal deficits.

"We need to see real movement toward balancing the budget. When you continue to rack up billions of dollars of debt, you are really putting the country in a vulnerable position if interest rates go up — if, heaven forbid, we have a downturn in the economy," MacKay said.

MacKay says one of the keys is to end handouts to big business.

"The No. 1 thing that we have to stop doing is corporate welfare. If we give another $100 million to Bombardier, people are going to lose their minds. We have to stop paying for corporate welfare," Mackay said.

Beyond cutting business grants, MacKay says, an across-the-board decrease in government spending combined with some tax relief would be on the CTF's list of priorities for Morneau.

Morneau will deliver his third budget in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Here's how to watch.

About the Author

Sean Kavanagh

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Sean has had a chance to live in some of Canada's other beautiful places (Whistler, B.C., and Lake of the Woods, Ont.) as well as in Europe and the United States. In more than a decade of reporting, Sean has covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections, including a stint as the civic affairs reporter responsible for city hall.