Manitoba government reports $270M surplus in final days of election campaign

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government, days away from a provincial election, says it's seeing an improvement in the state of the province's finances due in part to a rebounding economy.

Voters go to the polls on Tuesday.

The final audit numbers for the 2022-23 fiscal year released Friday show a surplus of $270 million after the province projected a $548-million deficit from the budget.

This is the second time Manitoba has reported a surplus since 2009. It has run deficits every year except during the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The province saw an additional $2 billion in revenue.

The government said the surplus is largely due to profits from Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro. If its earningswere not included in the summary amount, the province would be at a deficit of $368 million.

Under balanced budget legislation, Manitoba Hydro is not included in the summary amount. The legislation requires the province return to balance no later than 2028-29.

The governing Progressive Conservatives said growth from a strong economy resulted in more revenue from personal and corporate income taxes. Federal transfer payments also contributed to the surplus.

"What is shows to Manitoba is you have a government that can walk and chew gum at the same time," said Tory party spokesperson Shannon Martin, a legislature member who is not seeking re-election.

"You can actually make those critical, historic investments in health care and education while making affordability a key component of the budget."

The Progressive Conservatives have promised to balance the budget by 2025 if re-elected.

Throughout the campaign, the Tories have touted a string of tax-cut promises that include cuts to personal incomes taxes, eliminating the payroll tax on companies, an exemption for first-time homebuyers from the land transfer tax and cutting the provincial sales tax on flowers, trees and restaurant meals.

The Tories are confident they can afford the revenue loss from the slew of tax-cuts if re-elected and still maintain a balanced budget, Martin said.

"Manitobans have told us consistently that affordability is a key component for them and their families, and that's why we have taken measures," he said.

"We will continue to provide Manitobans that affordability, while ensuring that those investments can continue."

New Democrat Leader Wab Kinew criticized the province's decision to post a surplus.

"They had a huge amount of money at their disposal, and they did not use it to help (families) with additional inflation relief measures," Kinew said at a party announcement Friday.

He said the money could have meant cuts to hydro rates or gone back into health care.

The NDP have said the Tories proposed tax cuts are a sign a re-elected Tory government would have to cut health care and education to make up for the lost revenue.

The NDP, which has been in Opposition for the last seven years but is leading in opinion polls, released its full campaign platform this week.

By 2027, the platform says, Manitoba would be in a position to post a $1-million surplus.

Kinew said Friday that if his party forms government, it would work toward balancing the books sooner, while still making necessary investments in health care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2023.

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press