More than half of Manitobans 'strongly oppose' health care premiums: poll

Premier Brian Pallister's proposed health care premiums are not playing well in the province — 53 per cent strongly oppose them and 18 per cent oppose them moderately.

Majority polled see proposed premiums as a broken election promise

Premier Brian Pallister surprised Manitobans when he proposed health care premiums in September. (CBC)

Premier Brian Pallister's proposed health care premiums are not playing well in the province — 53 per cent strongly oppose them and 18 per cent oppose them moderately. Only 23 per cent of Manitobans polled by Probe Research support paying the premium. 

"There is a significant group who feel really strongly, really intensely, that they really hate this idea," said Mary Agnes Welch, research associate at Probe Research. "That's not always that common that people are just really 100 per cent opposed to something; sometimes they are a bit more open-minded, a bit more lukewarm."

Probe estimated the health care premiums — which have widely been called a tax — will amount to approximately $75 per month for most households but may be more or less depending on income.

"We knew introducing the topic of a health care premium would be controversial and generate a lot of feedback, much of it negative," said Premier Pallister's spokesperson in a written statement. He said the government is about to review and analyze "tens of thousands of submissions on this very important issue facing our Province."

The government launched its own online survey in September which asks Manitobans to weigh in on the plan for premiums. Welch characterizes this survey as a legitimate public consultation tool but warns it could be swayed by lobbyists and political parties.

"The main difference is our survey reaches the silent majority of Manitobans or the people who are not going to go fill out a survey on a government website. This is a representative look," said Welch, who added the Probe results are based on a random sample of 1,000 adult Manitobans. 

"We felt it was more important to get Manitobans engaged in the conversation about the future of our health care system than to worry about approval ratings," said Pallister's spokesperson.

"We have a premier who promised in the last election he was going to increase healthcare and cut taxes.  Instead we have a premier who wants to increase taxes and cut healthcare and it is catching up to him and his government," said NDP health critic Andrew Swan. 

More than half of the poll respondents — 52 per cent — viewed the proposed premiums as broken campaign promise. 

"The flipside to that is there is still nearly a third of people, a lot of them conservatives, who say this is a fair, reasonable idea that is emerging from difficult fiscal realities," said Welch. 

The Probe research poll was commissioned by the Winnipeg Free Press. One thousand adults were contacted between Sept. 21 and Oct. 10, 2017. The results are within 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.