By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger appears optimistic that his NDP government might avoid tax increases as it continues to struggle to balance the budget.
But he doesn’t rule them out.
“If we can keep growing the economy, we think there’s good prospects to do that,” he said Monday when asked about avoiding tax hikes. “But economic forecasts have been brought down.”
Selinger pointed to factors he believes work in the province’s favour.
“We’re going to be one of the top economies in the country. We’re going to have one of the best job-growth stories in the country. Working people contribute to the overall ability to provide government services and provide fiscal prudence and keep deficits down, so we think we’re going in the right direction on all those scores.”
The government announced on Friday that it is pushing back — for a second time — its plan to end a string of deficits that started in the 2009-10 fiscal year.
During the 2011 provincial election campaign, Selinger promised to balance the books by 2015. A year later, he pushed the target back to 2017. The target has now been postponed to 2018.
Selinger said Manitoba is no different than many other provinces that have had to deal with the fallout from lower oil prices.
“Have you noticed the oil prices in the last few months? There’s been pretty dramatic changes all across the country in what the forecast for the economy is.”
The NDP government forecast a deficit of $394 million for the fiscal year that ended last month, although final numbers will not be in until summer.
The provincial budget is to be delivered Thursday at the start of the spring legislature sitting. Selinger has hinted that a cabinet shuffle may be held before then.
“Stay tuned,” he said Monday when asked about a shuffle.
Selinger’s cabinet was rocked by a caucus revolt last fall when five of his most senior ministers challenged his leadership and resigned their portfolios. They were replaced by less experienced politicians, most of whom were long-term backbenchers.
One of the rebels, Theresa Oswald, ran against Selinger and came within 33 votes of toppling him at the NDP convention in March. The rebels had most of their caucus privileges temporarily suspended but were brought back into the fold earlier this month.
Selinger has given no sign that they will be given cabinet portfolios again. At a Monday announcement about a new Quickcare health clinic, he stood alongside Erin Selby, who was the province’s health minister until she challenged Selinger’s leadership.
The clinic is in Selby’s constituency, and she and Selinger smiled and chatted with each other briefly. During her remarks, Selby praised Oswald, her predecessor as health minister, for launching the Quickcare program, which is designed to ease pressure on emergency rooms by offering community health services for non-urgent matters.