Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister short on specifics in selling first budget

Premier Brian Pallister says he can't make major changes in Manitoba until reviews are wrapped up on everything from construction projects to health care to the public service — but he still promises to reduce the provincial sales tax by the end of his first term.

Reviews of services, health care and projects underway to determine which will stay, Pallister says

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said despite moderate budget and $890 million dollar deficit, the plan is still to reduce the PST in his first term. (The Canadian Press)

Premier Brian Pallister says he can't be specific about how he will wrestle Manitoba's deficit down until he gets results from a number of reviews, but he's trying to steer the ship without overturning it.

"It's not one simple thing or it would have been done by now," Pallister said on Information Radio on Wednesday.

A performance audit will begin within the next few weeks and should be complete by the end of the year.

"Also a sustainable health-care review has to be conducted so that we make the changes that will protect our services and also find the savings, because it's not sustainable the way it is now," Pallister said.

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen said in Tuesday's budget he will also review construction projects the NDP promised leading up to the election.

Pallister said that doesn't mean there will be no investment in infrastructure.

"Infrastructure deficit is real and I've been an advocate for a quarter of a century on us addressing it, but you don't address it by putting up signs and building things just so you can show off. You do it intelligently," Pallister said.

"So we're going to do an analysis on what's the return on investment. Do Manitobans benefit from this project? Too many projects have been undertaken in particular under the previous administration just the year before the election so they could be visible, you know, conspicuous construction so to speak."

During the election campaign, the Progressive Conservatives promised to reduce the provincial sales tax. Pallister said they are on track to keep that promise by the end of his first term in office.

Pallister said he will travel to Toronto later Wednesday to speak to investors to try to keep the province's credit rating from dropping due to the massive deficit.

Last year, Moody's Investors Service dropped the province's long-term rating to AA-2 from AA-1, citing a fast-growing debt load and a failure to meet balanced-budget targets. 

"It takes tens of millions of dollars away from front line services and gives it to happy money lenders. We have to get our fiscal house in order, but we have to protect the services that we provide at the same time, and there's a balance there," Pallister said.