WINNIPEG — Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen left the door open to privatizing government services and reducing tax credits as he outlined in broad strokes his priorities for the provincial budget coming on Tuesday.
Friesen said the government is determined to chip away at an $846-million deficit left by the former NDP government and warned that big changes are needed.
"This government has made it really clear that we value an approach that is based on results," Friesen said Monday when asked whether some services might be privatized.
"We need to get the best value possible for Manitobans, and that means doing things differently, understanding that current approaches are broken. They are not working."
Friesen confirmed a CBC report that the province is exploring the possibility of privatizing its fixed-wing air ambulance service that serves mostly remote communities. Helicopter air ambulance services are already run by STARS, a private non-profit agency.
Friesen also said there will be cuts to provincial tax credits.
"Our whole tax-credit system is very, very expensive and it is out of alignment," he said.
"Looking at other jurisdictions, our system here seemed ungainly, confusing, and didn't really get to the results it said it was stating, so absolutely there will be changes."
The Opposition New Democrats say the Tories are planning to reduce a tax credit for film and television productions and eliminate an income-tax rebate on tuition for post-secondary graduates.
Other provinces such as British Columbia have cut their film tax credits in recent years. The tuition rebate was brought in by the former NDP government and the Tories have said it offers no help to students who are still in school.
The Progressive Conservatives were elected last April on a promise to balance the budget within eight years and cut the provincial sales tax to seven per cent from eight by 2020. Premier Brian Pallister has repeatedly said the fiscal plan will involve restraining growth in spending rather than deep cuts.
The New Democrats say the government has already shown a willingness to impose cuts. They point to an announcement last week that three of Winnipeg's six hospital emergency departments will be converted to less-urgent care centres.
"We really hope that they don't ... carpet bomb the people of Manitoba with more austerity measures, but every indication is that's exactly where they're going," NDP finance critic James Allum said.
The Canadian Press