Election Fact-Checker: Parsing the PC health-care promise

As part of an ongoing effort to hold political leaders accountable, CBC News is fact-checking comments and promises made by party leaders at various times along the campaign trail.

Are the Tories really spending more? What does a $2B increase mean? Have they kept their pledges?

PC Leader Brian Pallister is correct when he claims his government spends more on health care than the NDP did. But he muddied the waters on Wednesday with a health-care promise. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Health care is a huge component of the NDP's election platform this summer. On Wednesday, the PCs made it a big part of their own re-election effort, too.

PC Leader Brian Pallister stood outside St. Boniface hospital and promised a new emergency department as part of a major health-care spending hike.

As part of an ongoing effort to hold political leaders accountable, CBC News is fact-checking comments and promises made by party leaders at various times along the campaign trail. Comments made by politicians at campaign events, as well as in press releases, may be rated as true, false, or muddy, in CBC News fact-checker articles.

Here's a check of two of Pallister's claims from Wednesday — and two near-identical rebuttals from opposition parties:

Claim by Manitoba PC Leader Brian Pallister, Aug. 14

The claim: "This year alone we are investing more in health care than the NDP government ever did."

Rating: True.

Here's why: Throughout the leadup to the 2019 election campaign, Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister has been fond of proclaiming his government has spent more on health care than the NDP government did during its final year in office.

This is entirely true, although it's not a big accomplishment: Manitoba almost always spends more on health care every year, mainly because of inflation.

During the final full year the NDP was in power, Greg Selinger's NDP spent $6.244 billion on health care. This fiscal year, Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservatives plan to spend $6.651 billion, an increase of $407 million, according to the provincial budget.

While the latest spending forecast for the fiscal year that ended this past March calls for $6.533 billion in provincial health-care spending ⁠— an amount that is on pace to be $240 million below what was budgeted ⁠— that remains $289 million more than the NDP ever spent.

This is important because it adds nuance to NDP and Liberal claims about Tory health cuts. The opposition parties can not claim the PCs are spending less on health care without misleading the public. They may only complain of de facto cuts, where spending increases fall short of inflationary pressures on the health-care system.

Claims by NDP spokesperson Erin Selby & Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, Aug. 14

The claim by Selby: "We've seen in the past, the past three years, he's underspent his own health-care budget," Selby told reporters, referring to Pallister and the PCs.

The claim by Lamont: "The record for the PCs on health care is that they have not once invested what they promised they would."

Rating: Almost true, but not quite.

Here's why: A mentioned above, the government plans to spend $6.651 billion on health care this fiscal year, but is now expected to spend only $6.411 billion. That means Manitoba is poised to spend $240 million less than it expected to shell out for health care.

In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the PCs planned to spend $6.681 billion on health care but wound up spending only $6.483 billion. That means $198 million of the health-care budget went unspent.

In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, however, the PCs overspent their $6.497-billion health-care budget by $49 million. Selby and Lamont can complain credibly about underspending for the past two years — but are false in claiming this is the case for three years.

Promise and accompanying claim by Pallister, Aug. 14

The promise: "A re-elected PC government will guarantee an additional $2-billion investment in health-care funding over the next four years."

The accompanying claim: This increase will amount to "a little more than two per cent" a year.

Rating: Muddy.

Here's why: Spread out over four years, a $2-billion health-care spending increase works out to an average of $500 million per year.

Pallister was very clear in stating this money is incremental, meaning it will arrive on top of existing spending. But he sowed confusion with his two-per-cent assessment.

It's simple arithmetic: $500 million is a lot more than two per cent of health-care spending right now. Assuming the Tories are spending $6.411 billion this year, that hike is 7.8 per cent. If they spend the entire $6.651-billion health-care budget, another $500 million will be a 7.5-per-cent hike.

This leaves voters to draw one of two conclusions: Either the spending hike is not entirely incremental — meaning, some money will come out of the health-care budget, somewhere — or Pallister simply mis-stated the scope of his party's planned health-care spending hike.

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About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter 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. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.


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