WINNIPEG — Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson defended her list of tax-cut promises Wednesday as her party pledged yet another round of tax relief if it is re-elected Oct. 3.
Stefanson, who has promised to cut business and personal income taxes since the election campaign began last week, told the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce the province has lost ground in recent decades in the battle to attract people and jobs.
"Tax competitiveness has been a big problem, I think, for our province," Stefanson said during a breakfast speech to the business group that included a question-and-answer session.
"We fell way behind other provinces across the country, and now we're trying to catch up," she added, mentioning Saskatchewan as an example.
Shortly after the speech, the Tories promised to remove the provincial sales tax from the sale of trees and flowers in an effort to help make communities greener.
The promise follows a series of proposed tax cuts, some of which would be phased in over time, that would cost the provincial treasury more than $1 billion a year. The promises include a rate cut on the lowest personal income tax bracket, the elimination of the payroll tax on businesses and an exemption for first-time homebuyers from the land transfer tax.
Stefanson said the province can afford the tax cuts and still end a string of deficits that stretch back to 2009, with the exception of a small surplus in 2019. The tax cuts, combined with Manitoba's low electricity rates, would spur economic growth, which will pump more money into provincial coffers, she said.
"Businesses are looking at Manitoba for our clean, green (hydroelectric) energy," she said.
Unlike oil- and gas-rich Alberta and Saskatchewan, which each get billions of dollars annually from energy royalties and rely less on income and sales taxes, Manitoba is a smaller player on the energy stage and collects a much smaller amount of royalties.
Still, Stefanson said, Manitoba must be competitive on taxation. The tax cuts are part of a Tory economic plan that says Manitoba's population could grow to two million people, from the current 1.4 million, by 2030.
The New Democrats have also promised tax cuts, including the temporary suspension of the provincial fuel tax until inflation subsides. But their campaign has focused more on putting new money into health care, including the reopening of three hospital emergency departments.
"There are other issues that people want addressed, like safety and the cost of living, but health care is No. 1," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
Kinew promised Wednesday to improve cardiac care at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg. An NDP government would dedicate $5 million a year to hire more researchers, specialists and five additional perfusionists, who operate machinery used during open-heart surgeries, Kinew said.
His plan was backed by Bill Gibb, a perfusionist at St. Boniface Hospital, who said cardiac care services have suffered in recent years.
"Positions have been cut. Our program has many vacancies that we are unable to fill. The people that are working are on call — around the clock, of course, but every other day — drastically impacting home life," Gibb said.
Kinew was joined at the campaign announcement by St. Boniface NDP candidate Robert Loiselle.
The St. Boniface constituency is currently held by Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, and the NDP, riding higher in opinion polls than the last election, are hoping to capture it for the first time since 2018.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2023.
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press