Scaled-back balanced budget law gets some teeth back

The province is beefing up a new balanced-budget bill that would require cabinet ministers to take a pay cut if the government doesn't reduce its deficit by $100 million or more from the previous year.

Province says stricter measures in Bill 21 will enhance accountability

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen said in March that Bill 21, the proposed fiscal responsibility and taxpayer protection act, "sets a principled course of sound financial decision-making to ensure a sustainable financial future." (CBC)

The province is beefing up a new balanced-budget bill that would require cabinet ministers to take a pay cut if the government doesn't reduce its deficit by $100 million or more from the previous year.

On Thursday evening, the province sent out a news release announcing an amendment to Bill 21, the proposed Fiscal Responsibility and Taxpayer Protection Act. The amendments passed during the bill's third reading Friday evening, more than a month after it was tabled.

In its first iteration, the bill would have required ministers to take a 20 per cent cut if the province didn't reduce its deficit from the previous year. But even a $1 reduction in the deficit would save ministers from being penalized. 

It was criticized by the Opposition NDP at the time as a measure to protect ministers' wallets. Upon taking office, the Progressive Conservative government scrapped a tougher law that cut ministers' pay by 20 per cent any time the budget was in deficit.

"Our government has listened carefully to Manitobans," said Finance Minister Cameron Friesen in a press release. 

"The amendments brought at committee reinforce this government's commitment to leading by example and making the necessary progress on deficit elimination. These amendments would ensure sufficient penalties if this government, or any future government, fails to meet targets for deficit reduction or maintaining balance."

Under the amended legislation, 20 per cent of all ministerial salaries would be withheld every year until improvement is shown. In the second consecutive budget deficit, that amount would increase to 40 per cent. 

Withheld pay would be paid out if the deficit is cut by $100 million or more, with a smaller amount paid out if the deficit improves by less than $100 million. If there's no improvement at all, that money is forfeited.

Newly appointed cabinet ministers wouldn't be penalized in their first fiscal year, nor would ministers appointed following a change in government.​

The core provincial deficit at the end of the year is expected to be $779 million, down from an $890-million pool of red ink last year.

Bill 19 held up 

On Thursday night, MLAs held up passage of Bill 19, the Efficiency Manitoba Act. PC MLA Steven Fletcher (Assiniboia) spoke several times in opposition, as did NDP MLA Rob Altemeyer (Wolseley). 

A spokesperson for the Progressive Conservatives said she expected the meeting to last until midnight, leaving the bill to pass at a later date.