Tory government backs Manitoba budget as critics dig into details
Finance minister touts 2018-19 budget as giving taxpayers most significant tax relief 'arguably ever'
The Progressive Conservative government has now moved from presenting their budget to defending and selling it.
Finance Minister Cameron Friesen started his day Tuesday at a Manitoba Chambers of Commerce breakfast telling a business audience, "we are doing what we said we would do; we are keeping our word."
That promise-keeping includes a modest small business tax cut, a substantial reduction in the deficit, a tax credit to create child-care spaces and, in Friesen's words, "the most significant tax relief back in the hands of Manitoba individuals arguably ever."
The institution of a carbon tax and promises it will be revenue neutral by 2020 are also centre-pieces of the budget.
Friesen's assertions have been challenged by some politically friendly forces since the budget dropped on Monday.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and the Manitoba Trucking Association have all lined up to question promises made by Friesen and Premier Brian Pallister regarding whether the carbon tax plan is revenue neutral, protects businesses and will bring down greenhouse gas emissions.
'A false choice'
Tuesday afternoon Friesen spoke to reporters following question period at the legislature to push back once again, addressing the CTF's claim that taxes are going up and won't bring greenhouse gas emissions down.
"The Canadian Taxpayers Federation believes that we should just fight Ottawa and not bring a carbon tax. It's a false choice. They are not being completely transparent with Canadians because, of course, what we know is we don't have discretion on whether or not we have a carbon tax," Friesen said.
Friesen was referring to a federal backstop that will impose a carbon tax if provinces don't do it themselves.
The NDP had just introduced a motion condemning budget cuts to health care (a one per cent increase in the budget won't meet a rise in inflation), post-secondary education and Pharmacare.
"Budgets are about priorities and we've seen the priorities of this premier in his broken promise document that they brought forward yesterday," NDP Opposition Leader Wab Kinew said.
Pallister defends the small increase as part of a record investment in health care.
One-by-one critics rose in the legislature Wednesday to slam the budget, and each minister responsible for the department being targeted responded.
NDP MLA Jim Maloway (Elmwood) targeted Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler for a $150-million decrease in spending on highway and road upgrades, calling it a "terrible idea."
"We've got an infrastructure deficit. The minister, just a year-and-a-half-ago promised to continue spending on highways — $500-million. And it's just as if they forgot about the promise," Maloway said.
Maloway isn't wrong — the budget for highway work has dropped — but Schuler says some of those funds are now being earmarked for the Lake St. Martin diversion channel and other water-related infrastructure projects.
Schuler was asked several times if the decrease in highway work was a cut and didn't answer, at one point sliding in an announcement of new schools into the back-and-forth with reporters.
"I would point out that we've got an announcement of five new schools, which is also infrastructure. We made a commitment that we would spend $1 billion on infrastructure and we are living up to that," Schuler told reporters.
The budget, which spans two thick books and has thousands of expenditures, cuts, increases and calculations, will take some time to completely digest.