Budget 2018 offers 'no real relief' for Manitobans, says premier

Manitoba's premier says he saw a little he liked and a lot lacking in the 2018 federal spending plan.

Federal spending plan includes cash for microbiology lab, CMHR, but not for Churchill

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Ottawa missed opportunities to provide broad tax relief to Canadians in its 2018 budget Tuesday. (CBC)

Manitoba's premier says he saw a little he liked and a lot lacking in the 2018 federal spending plan.

"The words are good. We'll have to see the details in respect of some of the priority areas. We agree with many of them," Premier Brian Pallister told reporters at a press conference Tuesday.

"But at the same time this is largely tinkering. There's no real relief here for hard-working Canadian families."

Finance Minister Bill Morneau tabled the 367-page document, titled "Equality + Growth, A Strong Middle Class," in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Pallister applauded some aspects of the plan, including cash promised to tackle substance abuse and cope with a surge in asylum seekers crossing the U.S. border, plus increased funding for Indigenous health and a focus on gender equity through measures like parental supports and anti-harassment initiatives.

But he said Ottawa missed a chance to offer broader tax relief to Canadians as household expenses rise and left out front-and-centre business and trade issues — namely, concerns surrounding NAFTA and more-competitive U.S. businesses benefiting from reduced corporate taxes in that country.

"Tax relief for low-income Canadians is welcome, but 39 out of 40 taxpayers won't see any relief out of this budget," Pallister said.

"Secondly, it's worse than that, because the deficit numbers aren't even really referenced in the document that I've seen. There's no plan for moving to balance. There's nothing."

Finance Minister Bill Morneau shakes hands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he arrives in the House of Commons prior to tabling the federal budget in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb.27, 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The premier suggested there may be some modest tax relief for Manitobans when his government brings in its budget in a few weeks, but stopped short of specifics. 

"We've worked very, very hard to put the province in a better situation fiscally where we are able to make sure that Manitobans don't have to endure the same kinds of year after year tax hikes they endured over the last number of years," he said.

Ron Koslowsky, vice-president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters in Manitoba, said without a commitment to improving the business environment in Canada, he's worried home-grown businesses will eventually move out, and foreign ones won't move in.

"There are many companies … that are headquartered elsewhere, and I can tell you, their discussions around the table every year are, where do we invest our money? Where does it make sense? Where are we competitive?" Koslowsky said.

"Those decisions, over time, will end up — unless we retain competitiveness — will end up moving people, jobs, plants elsewhere, to the detriment of Manitoba and Canada."

Churchill 'clearly, noticeably absent': Friesen

Manitoba got a few specific references in the budget, including money for the National Microbiology Lab and $35 million over six years to support operations at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.

The budget didn't include a mention of Churchill's rail line, which has been out of service since severe flooding damaged it in spring 2017. The rail line is the only land-link to the northern community of roughly 900.

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen called the issue "clearly, noticeably absent."

"There is one reference to rail, which is not Churchill," Friesen said.

With files from Sean Kavanagh