Manitoba seeks to claw back or cancel funding for 'non-essential' service providers during COVID-19 pandemic

Premier Brian Pallister's cash-strapped provincial government is looking to claw back or cancel funding to service providers it doesn't deem essential during the COVID-19 pandemic

Departments asked to identify non-essential funding and declare how much notice needed to reduce or cancel it

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Manitoba faces a $5-billion deficit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The province is looking at clawing back support to non-profit service providers. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Premier Brian Pallister's cash-strapped provincial government is looking to claw back or cancel funding to service providers it doesn't deem essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a memo obtained by CBC News, the provincial treasury board secretariat has given all Manitoba government departments until Wednesday at noon to compile spreadsheets of all the funding and grants they give to non-governmental service providers for the current fiscal year.

The service providers in question include non-profit organizations that deliver social programs or health care services.

The memo asks all government departments to state the total funding to each service provider for the 2020-21 fiscal year, how much of that money has been disbursed so far and the purpose of this funding.

The treasury board secretariat said knowing the purpose is "critical to identify whether or not this service is essential," according to the memo.

Government departments have also been asked to determine how much each organization relies on the province for its funding and whether the organization in question is closed during the pandemic.

The treasury board secretariat also wants to know what notice "may be required to terminate or reduce funding" for the organization in question, according to the memo.

The move comes as Pallister's Progressive Conservative government struggles to remain on solid financial footing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, Pallister said the province could post a $5-billion deficit for the current fiscal year as a result of lost revenue and higher health-care costs. The premier also postponed a one-percentage-point cut to the provincial sales tax that had been planned for July 1 and put off the introduction of a carbon tax slated to be levied the same day.

It's unclear how much money the province expects to save by cutting back on funding for service providers, whose ranks include social-service organizations and non-governmental health-care providers.

The secretariat also asked all government departments to review funding arrangements and grants for service providers that have agreements with what the province calls "other reporting entities," which include regional health authorities, schools, universities, Crown corporations, agencies, boards and commissions.

The purpose of this latter review is "to ensure that all non-essential spending has been paused," the memo states.

In a statement, the Pallister government suggested this funding would pay for essential health care.

"The province continues seeking ways to defer non-essential spending in order to redirect money to frontline health services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," finance ministry spokesperson Andrea Slobodian said on Monday.

"The premier will share more information with you on these measures in the days ahead."

Earlier in the day, Pallister made repeated references to non-profit organizations when he announced the province has contracted a call centre to help Manitoba businesses and other organizations apply for federal aid.

"This would include, for example, cultural and charitable organizations [and] daycares in addition to the normal small businesses you might think of in your head right now," Pallister said during a conference call with reporters.

"It's very important that we also get the word out to all our non-profits and our charities, too, because they're hurting as well through this time, with reduced donations and reduced support."


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.