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Speculation, expectations ahead of Manitoba NDP government’s budget unveiling

In its first budget since winning Manitoba’s provincial election last October, the NDP government faces plenty of speculation and expectations.

Prior to Tuesday’s budget, the government has suggested that it may extend the province’s fuel-tax holiday — a temporary suspension of the 14-cents-a-litre tax, which was put in place Jan. 1 for a six-month period.

Other promises made during Premier Wab Kinew and the NDP’s election campaign that may be fulfilled in the new budget include a tax credit to help renters, hiring more health-care workers, free prescription birth control, electric vehicle rebates, and a doubling of the tax credit for fertility treatments.

The province has already announced funding in the budget to replace Manitoba’s paper health cards — an important first step, Kinew said, toward a fully digital system that will eventually allow Manitobans more direct access to their own health records.

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The government said it intends to deliver on modernized plastic and digital options by next year, as well as streamlining the application process.

Click to play video: '680 CJOB’s Richard Cloutier on Manitoba health card announcement'

680 CJOB’s Richard Cloutier on Manitoba health card announcement

Tuesday’s budget comes as Manitoba continues to stare at red ink.

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The forecasted deficit for the fiscal year that ends March 31 is just under $2 billion — up from $1.6 billion as of December 2023’s fiscal update in December. This would mark the highest deficit ever in Manitoba, aside from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NDP government, elected last October, has blamed the previous Progressive Conservative government for making health-care promises that weren’t accounted for in the 2023 budget, as well as not setting aside money for collective agreements that led to increased salaries for health workers.

The opposition PCs, however, have accused the NDP of exaggerating the problem.

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Two weeks ago, Manitoba finance minister Adrien Sala said that despite the previous government’s agreements and budgeting leading to a deficit, Manitoba will be able to balance investment while resolving debt.

Click to play video: '‘Reckless’ decisions of previous government hidden from Manitobans: finance minister'

‘Reckless’ decisions of previous government hidden from Manitobans: finance minister

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said Monday that it’s keeping a close eye on the budget, and that Manitobans are expecting to see progress made on provincial debt.

CTF prairie director Gage Haubrich told 680 CJOB’s Connecting Winnipeg that, as of the weekend, that debt was sitting at $33.5 billion — and counting.

“The most important thing is to get that budget balanced and start to get debt down,” Haubrich said. “But if, for some reason, the government doesn’t quite have that in them this year, a path to balance is also really important. Taxpayers need to be shown that this government has a plan to get the fiscal system under control, and if they don’t balance the budget or don’t present a plan, it’s going to be really hard for taxpayers to believe their rhetoric in the future.”

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The worst part of the debt, Haubrich said, is the $2.2 billion in interest payments — money that could have been better used toward accomplishing some of the province’s other goals.

— With files from The Canadian Press

Click to play video: 'Manitobans will be “very happy” with upcoming budget: minister'

Manitobans will be “very happy” with upcoming budget: minister

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