Manitoba PCs say law must pass before sending education tax rebate cheques — but opposition unsure about that
New statute says legislation must be tabled, passed before action can be taken, says deputy premier
Lieutenants from Manitoba's three main political parties sparred Wednesday about whether the Pallister government needs to implement legislation before sending out education property tax rebate cheques to landowners.
The 2021-22 provincial budget commits to halving education property taxes over two years — a 25-per cent cut this year and next — for residential and farm property owners. Owners of other types of properties, such as commercial, will receive a reduction of 10 per cent.
But government house leader Kelvin Goertzen told reporters Wednesday there is a new statute that requires legislation to be passed before rebate cheques can be put in the mail.
"Our expectation is that the appropriate minister will table that legislation next week, and we're hoping of course for a speedy passage in the house to enact that," said Goertzen.
But there is precedent for tax changes to go ahead without assented legislation.
The former Manitoba NDP government raised the provincial sales tax to eight per cent in 2013. The tax hike took effect July 1 of that year, while its legislation was not passed until that December.
In 2019, the Progressive Conservative government reduced the provincial sales tax to seven per cent. The legislation passed before the tax cut took effect, but Premier Brian Pallister had previously stated it would be enacted regardless of any blockades from the opposition parties.
The education property tax rebate is different, as the new statute requires a bill to be tabled and passed before anything can be done, said Goertzen.
But Opposition NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw doesn't believe that's accurate, citing the $200 cheques sent to seniors nearly a year ago for pandemic relief.
"That didn't have any legislation, it didn't have to go through the house. There was no emergency appropriation bills or anything like that," Wasyliw told reporters Wednesday.
"They could eventually pass [the education tax cut] in a budget implementation tax bill. But the actual cheques themselves, the actual payments themselves — none of that has to go through the legislative process and they could do that on their own."
Manitoba Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard, who spoke with reporters on behalf of his party Wednesday, is unsure about what exactly is needed to send out cheques.
Regardless, the PCs are drafting legislation for next week. But there is no guarantee it will be passed by June, when the current legislative sitting is set to end, said Goertzen.
"Our hope is that the NDP will see that this is important for Manitobans to receive this tax relief and to do the right thing and ensure Manitobans do get that tax relief," he said, noting that the education tax cut will be the main part of the bill.
When asked if the NDP would support the bill, Wasyliw told reporters the party will have to review the bill first before taking an official stance.
But the party does already have some concerns — namely the impact on Manitobans who rent.
"It's pretty obvious that this is going to damage the fairness of our tax system. It's going to benefit wealthy landlords and large estate holders," said Wasyliw. "It's not going to do anything for renters."
Small businesses that rent their commercial space will also be disproportionately impacted, he added.
Gerrard, who plans to vote down the bill, shares those concerns for renters.
In its budget, the Pallister government acknowledged that property owners will be the ones who benefit from the education tax cut.
But to compensate renters, the province committed to a two-year rent freeze starting in 2022.
Gerrard also sees the money being sent to Manitobans as borrowed money, given the province's deficit.
He also accused the PCs of "campaigning on the public dime," saying it would cost $1.3 million to send out the rebate cheques.
Wasyliw accuses premier of personal gain
During Wednesday's question period, Wasyliw accused the premier of making thousands off his government's policy.
Pallister will receive at least $7,000 through tax savings on his Winnipeg home, a residential property in rural Manitoba and commercial property in Portage la Prairie, Wasyliw said.
"The only kitchen table the premier is concerned about is his own," he said.
Pallister later responded by saying he didn't get into politics for the money.
He then accused Wasyliw of raising education taxes by 40 per cent over seven years when he served as a Winnipeg School Division school board trustee.
With files from Ian Froese