Manitoba Budget Focuses on Health Care, Includes $800M Deficit

Manitoba Budget Focuses on Health Care, Includes $800M Deficit
Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew speaks at an event in Winnipeg, Man., on Jan. 18, 2024. (The Canadian Press/John Woods)
Doug Lett

Manitoba’s new NDP government has unveiled its first budget under the leadership of Premier Wab Kinew.

The budget has a major focus on health care, underlining promises made by the NDP during last fall’s provincial election to improve health care and make life more affordable.

Those goals do come at a cost. The provincial government also announced it will run a deficit of nearly $800 million this year on overall spending of $24.1 billion. Meanwhile, the budget includes a commitment to balancing the books within the government’s four-year term.
Health-care spending includes hiring 1,000 new front-line health-care workers. The budget also offers a variety of tax breaks to families and individuals and extends the gas tax cut, implemented on Jan. 1, by three months to the end of September.

“The challenge that we face in health care isn’t going to be solved overnight,” Mr. Kinew said at a news conference on April 2. “But based on the investments in this document, you are going to start seeing improvements in health care this year.”

The budget commits the province to hiring 100 doctors, 210 nurses, 90 paramedics, and 600 health-care aides over the next year. It also promises to add hospital and ICU beds and open new minor injury and illness clinics and primary care clinics.

In addition, the province announced work will begin to open emergency rooms in Victoria Hospital in Winnipeg and in a hospital in Eriksdale, a community about two hours’ drive northwest of Winnipeg.

“We know that we need the staff to be able to do so and that’s why our health-care commitment starts with the staffing,” Mr. Kinew added. “But we’re seeing encouraging enough news on the recruitment and retention front to be able to move ahead with the emergency room commitments we made in the recent election.”

Health care was the biggest issue for the NDP in the fall 2023 election. Another major topic was making life more affordable. The province’s finance minister, Adrien Sala, said those two areas are the focus of the NDP’s first budget.

Affordability Measures

“We are introducing our first budget to rebuild health care and to lower costs for families in our province,” Mr. Sala told reporters.

In January the province announced a six-month holiday on the 14-cents-per-litre provincial tax on gasoline and diesel, and the 2024 budget has extended that to September 30.

“We all know that Manitobans have been struggling with inflation for the past few years, and that interest rates remain high today,” Mr. Kinew said. “That’s why we’re committed to helping you with the cost of livingweek after week, month after month.”
The budget contains a host of measures that will make a difference to the vast majority of Manitoba’s 1.4 million people, the premier said.

They include a new $1,500 homeowners tax credit and a maximum annual renters tax credit that will be increased to $575 starting in the 2025 tax year, the latter with a higher maximum top-up for seniors. Compulsory auto insurance rates are being lowered by 5 percent. The government is also touting what it calls a “broad middle class tax cut and bigger paycheques” that will see increases to tax bracket thresholds.

Other promises include free prescription birth control, $10 a day child care, and a $300 rebate on security systems for families and small businesses.

The budget also offers a $4,000 rebate for buying a new electric vehicle (EV) or plug-in hybrid, along with a $2,500 rebate for purchasing a used EV or plug-in hybrid.

The homeowners tax credit is expected to effectively eliminate education property taxes for homes assessed at approximately $285,000 or lower.

Mr. Sala had also announced that the minimum wage will be raised, going from $15.30 to $15.80 per hour effective Oct. 1.

Overall, Mr. Kinew said the list of measures will make life more affordable.

“This is going to help those who need it most83 percent of Manitobans are going to be doing a lot better under this approach than they did under the previous government,” said the premier.

‘Elephant in the Room’

Manitoba is projecting to get nearly $1 billion more in federal transfer payments in 202425 compared to the previous fiscal year, and the premier said almost all of it is going toward health care. The province is also expecting more revenue from the retail sales tax, reflecting higher consumer spending and prices.

However, the finance minister called the province’s deficit “the elephant in the room.”

“We’re coming out of years of rising costs, and people are struggling,” Mr. Sala said in his budget speech. “There are those who will say this budget is too ambitiousbut it’s for those reasons it needs to be ambitious. We can fix health care and make life more affordable. And we can do it while charting a path back to balance in four years,” he said.

Mixed Reviews

The budget is getting mixed reviews.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) applauded the move to extend the gas tax holiday. But it pointed out that Manitoba’s overall debt is expected to hit around $35.4 billion by the end of the year.

“Despite taking in record amounts of money from Manitobans, the government is still failing to balance the budget,” said CTF Prairie Director Gage Haubrich in a statement. “The government is kicking the debt can down the road and wasting close to $200 million per month on interest payments.”

The budget got a better grade from the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU).

“The investments announced today are critical first steps in rebuilding our public services, whether it’s health care or education, infrastructure or conservation,” said MGEU President Kyle Ross in a statement.