By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s NDP government plans to table a fiscal update days before launching a provincial election campaign, Premier Greg Selinger said Thursday.
The document March 8 will lay out the government’s spending priorities in broad terms, but won’t have details like a full budget would.
Selinger all but confirmed a cornerstone of the plan will be a new surtax on high-income earners that will be at least partially offset by cuts for the middle class.
“We are seriously looking at providing relief to middle-income and working families — modest tax relief — and looking at how we can do that in terms of redistributing some income from those at the very top,” Selinger said.
“We are taking a very serious look at it and the details will appear in the fiscal update.”
Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the province’s freedom-of-information law show the government analyzed possible effects of a surtax last fall. The details have been withheld under a section of the law that protects advice for policy-making.
Selinger would not say at what income level a surtax might apply. Alberta’s NDP government replaced the province’s flat 10 per cent income-tax rate with a series of higher income-tax brackets for people earning more than $125,000 annually.
Selinger said the fiscal update will also focus on the government’s plans to boost infrastructure spending and create jobs, as well as on a long-standing promise to create thousands of child-care spaces.
The document will serve as an NDP platform for the April 19 provincial election. Under Manitoba’s fixed-election date law, the election campaign must be launched sometime between March 15 and 22. The legislature is scheduled to sit from Feb. 24 to March 15.
Selinger’s New Democrats have been trailing in opinion polls since they raised the provincial sales tax in 2013. In recent months, the premier has doubled down on his plan to run deficits to fund infrastructure projects and create jobs.
“We want to have a chance to focus on the No. 1 priority for Manitobans and Canadians. That’s making sure we have a steadily growing economy with good jobs and economic growth,” he said Thursday.
Having a fiscal update instead of a formal budget will free up legislature time for other matters. A fiscal update can be passed quickly while a budget requires at least eight days of debate.
That, Selinger said, means the government can pass bills left over from last fall’s sitting as well as some new initiatives, including:
— A bill to incorporate aboriginal history in the school curriculum.
— Legislation to extend new protection to victims of domestic violence.
— A proposed law to give the province’s children’s advocate more investigative powers.
— A new environmental bill of rights that would put more onus on developers to protect ecosystems.
The Opposition Progressive Conservatives said the government’s plan is a flip-flop from an earlier promise to release a full budget and will allow the NDP to avoid detailed scrutiny of Manitoba’s finances.
“They will shirk their responsibility and they will not be accountable,” Tory finance critic Cameron Friesen said.
“They’ll put forward (general) numbers that we cannot look far enough into.”