03/12/2014 10:54 EDT | Updated 05/12/2014 05:59 EDT

Manitoba government questioned on number of jobs created by tax hike

WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government faced questions Wednesday about job-creation numbers it says were based on a report it commissioned from the Conference Board of Canada.

The government has repeatedly said its new five-year infrastructure program will create 58,900 jobs. But one of the people behind the report said that isn't quite accurate.

"On average, over the five-year period that we looked at this kind of spending, you're in essence looking at 11,000 or so jobs on average," said Pedro Antunes, project manager for the conference board analysis.

He said the 58,900 figure is a cumulative number of person-years of employment that the report says will be created over the five-year program. For example, one person's job, held for all five years, counts as five person-years of employment.

The report says that, in any given year, the number of extra jobs will vary from 8,500 to 13,400.

Opposition members leapt on the discrepancy in question period. They accused the government of misleading the public about the impact of its infrastructure program, which the government has said is being financed by the provincial sales-tax increase it brought in last year.

"This government tries to take credit for creating jobs it will not create," Opposition Leader Brian Pallister said.

Theresa Oswald, minister responsible for jobs and the economy, stood by her numbers.

"Person-years of employment. Jobs. Tomato, Tomato," she said, pronouncing the latter with a British accent.

"We're talking about people getting paycheques because they're doing the work that they may not have otherwise been getting."

Oswald said it's common for governments of all stripes to use the word 'jobs' when referring to person-years of employment.

"This really ... is an issue of jargon that bureaucrats use — person years of employment — and the language that Manitobans use ... they talk about jobs."

The NDP government is working to show voters that new sales tax revenues will be used for core infrastructure and job creation. The province raised the tax to eight per cent from seven, and opinion polls suggest the New Democrats have fallen well behind the Tories ever since.

The discrepancy between the government's jobs numbers and those of the conference board was first noticed by Winnipeg resident Dave Routhier, who challenged a government backbencher on social media to double-check the numbers.

Routhier said Wednesday that almost 59,000 new jobs in a province of 1.2 million people sounded unbelievable from the get-go.

"That would mean no unemployment."

He also said he felt misled by the government.

"I would like them to correct the record in the media, and I'd like to see their website updated to reflect reality."