Provincial budget to be tabled April 11

The Progressive Conservatives say they will deliver a budget on April 11.

Expected to include cost-control measures, the spending plan will reflect "difficult but necessary" decisions, a news release stated.

"Our government ran on a commitment to Manitobans as you know that we would take the steps necessary to return our province to balance. That we would create stability," Finance Minister Cameron Friesen said Thursday.

Manitoba's 2017 budget was developed with help from an advisory panel, the minister said, chaired by Janice MacKinnon, former Saskatchewan finance minister, and Dave Angus, former Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

"This panel ... includes representatives with experience in the civil service, agriculture, public and private sectors, health care and charitable organizations ... [it] is reviewing the volumes of work and will be providing to us recommendations of initiatives our government can pursue," Friesen said.

"In order to better protect the frontline services, provide better job security for workers in our system and ensure lower taxes."

Friesen said maintenance of core infrastructure, like hospitals and roads, was deferred year after year by the previous NDP government, while spending in other areas soared.

'An austerity agenda'

The Tories inherited an $846-million deficit from the former NDP government. Manitoba's deficit would have nearly doubled, Friesen said, to almost $1.7 billion by 2019-20, if spending went unchecked.

"The NDP spent beyond its means for 17 years leaving Manitobans with an inherited deficit of $900 million," Friesen said.

Manitoba has also seen its credit downgraded, he said, making debt more expensive for the province.

James Allum, finance critic with the NDP, called Friesen's characterization of Manitoba's finances a scare tactic.

"We know our debt-to-GDP ratio is stable," said Allum. "And that's the critical feature that governments use to determine whether or not their debt is manageable."

Allum said the 2017 budget amounts to an austerity agenda that will leave Manitoban families in the lurch. Investing in services will only help improve the province's economy, he said, not hurt it.

"The worst thing you can do is cut the programs and services Manitobans rely on."