Brian Pallister and PC government table first budget today
NDP says drop in number of ministries might make it hard to see what was trimmed in budget
For the first time in nearly 17 years, the authors of a provincial budget are PC blue.
Progressive Conservative finance minister Cameron Friesen is expected to deliver a budget with some modest tax relief, a reduction in ambulance fees and some belt tightening.
It's been a rapid agenda for the Tories, from election to Throne Speech to budget in six weeks.
"Being elected in April, bringing a budget in the last day of May, there are encumbrances, there are decisions that have already been taken. Nevertheless, we believe we will be able to show real progress," Friesen said.
Political observers don't expect a radical course change for Manitoba in the PC's first year.
Author and political scientist Chris Adams said he expects a "careful budget that will start off the Progressive Conservatives on a calm note."
"I don't think we'll see massive cuts. I don't think we'll see forced holidays for the civil service and I think we'll see some cost savings from the reduction of ministries, down to just 12 cabinet positions," Adams said.
Friesen said the priorities for the new government are growing the economy, finding savings from efficiencies and using the proceeds to strengthen front line services.
A promise to cut one percentage point of the provincial sales tax is a key part of the PC agenda, but won't happen until much later in their mandate.
But Friesen does promise the public will be able to see where the new government intends to go with this budget.
"We are going to have messages that clearly indicate to Manitobans - give them a sense of where we will go in the longer term," he said.
Friesen says despite the provincial deficit being higher than reported by the previous NDP government, they have found some "areas for savings" that won't impact services and those he promised will be in the budget today.
Those are the type of words that catch the attention of the opposition.
NDP finance critic James Allum says he expects something of a "status quo budget" but he is also concerned with the drastic drop in the number of ministries (down to 12 from an NDP number of 19). He said that will make it harder to see what's being trimmed.
"We expect to see some cuts around the edges, which are going to be very hard to find because they have changed the government structure; it's going to be very hard to find where all their hidden cuts are but you can be sure that's what we are going to be looking for," Allum said.
Many priorities for the government were outlined in the government's recent throne speech including promises to improve literacy programs at school and boost tourism marketing.
Adams doesn't believe the PCs will go too far, too fast because they crafted their election message to the middle class, especially those voters in Winnipeg.
"For instance we've had indications from the minister of education that there aren't going to be cuts in education, that 2.5 per cent [funding increases] to the universities will continue in this coming budget. So education and health will probably be maintained in this budget and that's appealing to the middle class," Adams said.
The budget will be tabled at about 2:30 p.m.