POLITICS

Manitoba NDP government pushing back its balanced budget another year

04/24/2015 08:26 EDT | Updated 07/24/2015 05:59 EDT
WINNIPEG - Manitoba's NDP government is pushing back its promise to balance the budget for a second time.

Finance Minister Greg Dewar said finances remain tight, so the vow to end deficits by the 2016-17 fiscal year is being pushed back one year.

"We've decided that rather than meet that arbitrary target, we'll continue to invest in infrastructure and services that Manitobans desire," Dewar said Friday night.

"This allows us to continue with our program of providing jobs and opportunities for Manitobans."

The move was immediately met with criticism from the Opposition Progressive Conservatives, who took to social media.

"Multiple broken promises," read one tweet from the Tory Twitter account.

Manitoba has been running deficits since 2009, and the NDP promised in the 2011 election to be back in the black by the 2014-15 fiscal year. A little over two years ago, Premier Greg Selinger pushed that target back two years. He pointed to continuing sluggishness in the global economy and transfer payments that he said were not keeping up with the cost of programs.

Part of the challenge for Manitoba is that while federal transfers for health care and social services have increased, annual equalization payments have dropped by about $300 million since 2009.

Equalization is based largely on the fiscal strength of each province, and Manitoba's slow but steady economy has grown faster than that of most other provinces.

The continued red ink could be a key issue in the next election, slated for April 2016. The deficits have continued even though the government has expanded the provincial sales tax, raised it by one percentage point, and hiked taxes on other items such as fuel and cigarettes.

Asked if any more tax hikes would be announced in his budget next Thursday, Dewar said he could not provide any specifics before the budget's release

"I can't talk about that because that'll be announced in the budget, but I can tell you that our plan is to keep Manitoba a very affordable place for Manitobans to live in."