Budget needed 'bold action,' didn't go far enough: Canadian Federation of Independent Business

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The Manitoba head of a national group representing small business says the province's new budget is a "missed opportunity."

"They're not taking the bold, necessary changes to bend their cost curve," said Jonathan Alward, director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in Manitoba.

"They have no official plan to get back to balanced budgets. Without a road map, without any set of goals, I can't imagine they're going to be able to do so."

The 2017-18 budget, presented by the Progressive Conservative government on Tuesday, includes a 2.1 per cent increase to "core spending" and a 3.1 per cent increase to summary spending — that is, including Crown corporations, government business entities and public-sector organizations.

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen described the budget as "moderate," and some observers have breathed sighs of relief for the absence of deep cuts to services.

"That wasn't the solution we chose and it wasn't the solution we ran on," Premier Brian Pallister told reporters on Tuesday.

"What we did today was balance the importance of getting to balance with the need to protect the services Manitobans count on."

But Alward said the restraint is unwelcome among business owners who were hoping to see the province reinforce a commitment to small businesses, and it doesn't bode well for the government promise to beat the deficit by 2024.

"While they made significant progress reducing red tape, there's no tax help in here," he said. "There's not a strong enough direction back to balanced budgets to help, you know, improve those hiring intentions."

'Penny-pinching'

Molly McCracken, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Winnipeg, said she also expected to see more tax cuts in the budget, but cautioned against the "illusion" that there aren't any at all.

"There are still quite a lot of tax cuts in terms of, as I was mentioning, income tax cuts," she said. "So that's a challenge."

Where Alward critiqued the government for spending too much, McCracken said it's not spending enough on Manitobans. She said she'd hoped to see more investment in child care, social housing and poverty reduction.

"They're pulling back, they're penny-pinching and they're not reinvesting in that, and that's really concerning," she said.

McCracken said without government leadership on social issues, problems in Manitoba will get worse.

"Really, government has a role to play in improving the lives of all Manitobans, and we're not seeing this budget reach the lives of all Manitobans."