Manitoba throne speech focuses on small tax cuts, campaign promises

WINNIPEG — Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government is promising to cut taxes, hire more health-care workers and boost its crime-fighting efforts.

The priorities — most of which were promised by the Tories in the summer election campaign — were among dozens laid out in the province's throne speech Tuesday.

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The government said it plans to remove the provincial sales tax next year from salon services, tax preparation, home insurance and wills, as well as cut vehicle registration fees by 10 per cent.

"We're going to keep those (election) promises," said Premier Brian Pallister, whose party won a second majority Sept. 10 on a platform of lower taxes and reduced deficits.

"That's what this speech was largely about today — following up, landing the plane, not just talking about taking it off."

The Tories are also promising to hire 200 more nurses and 80 rural paramedics, and to improve services such as home care.

To fight crime and drug addiction, the government plans to spend $10 million on increased police enforcement and open a sobering facility staffed by mental-health professionals.

On the economic front, the government is promising to enhance its film and video tax credit. Provincewide restrictions on Sunday and holiday retail shopping hours are to be lifted. Craft breweries are to be exempt from a government markup on items they produce and sell on site.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Pallister's tax changes primarily help the wealthy and follow years of fiscal restraint that included cuts to social housing subsidies and other programs.

"What the government is doing is sort of Robin Hood in reverse," Lamont said.

NDP Opposition Leader Wab Kinew expressed concern over a short passage in the speech that says publicly funded colleges and universities will soon receive mandate letters "outlining expected students' outcomes and financial accountability."

"I do not want Mr. Pallister to be in charge of the education, the things that my kids learn when they go to college and university," Kinew said. "I want the experts in science and technology and medicine to set that curriculum."

The idea was first raised in a consultant's report in 2017 that, among other options, said post-secondary grants could be tied to performance indicators at each school.

Pallister said details will come later.

"It's clear that Manitobans ... want to see us training people who can support themselves and contribute to the economy of the province."

The legislature is also to wade into the debate over a Quebec law that bars government employees such as judges, teachers or police officers from wearing religious symbols at work.

The throne speech promises a resolution — a non-binding collective statement by legislature members — that will support the right to wear religious symbols and clothing. A similar resolution was passed by the Ontario legislature earlier this month.

The legislature is scheduled to sit for three weeks before the winter break. The Opposition New Democrats are expected to devote much of their time in question period to health care and crime.

With violence spiking this year in Winnipeg, the New Democrats say the Tories have hampered police forces by essentially freezing municipal funding.

The pressure to loosen provincial purse strings may intensify now that the Tories are closing in on a balanced budget. The province posted a deficit of $163 million in the fiscal year that ended in March — $531 million lower than the previous year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2019.

© Melita New Era

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