‘Back to Balance:’ Manitoba Premier Signals Fiscal Restraint for Municipalities

‘Back to Balance:’ Manitoba Premier Signals Fiscal Restraint for Municipalities

By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Brian Pallister
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister speaks to media after the reading of the throne speech at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is not going to share the excise tax on cannabis with municipalities, and has signalled that fiscal restraint with municipal transfers will continue. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

WINNIPEG – Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is rejecting the idea of sharing cannabis excise duties with municipalities and is sending strong signals that other funding for municipalities will continue to be on a tight leash.

“Isn’t it about time that we had a provincial government that understood that you can’t just grow debt, and say yes to everything today, without consequences tomorrow?” Pallister told delegates Monday at the annual convention of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.

“Getting back to balance is a priority for us.”

Pallister said the province is wrestling with fiscal challenges such as rising interest rates and costly projects at Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro. He has promised to eliminate the deficit by 2024 after a string of deficits started by the former NDP government in 2009.

Pallister gave no indication that municipal funding, which has been essentially frozen since the Tories came to power in 2016, will increase in the coming year. He also rejected a call from the association for a share of the federal excise tax on recreational cannabis following its legalization last month.

“There’s no profit in cannabis. And there’s no proof that there’s going to be profit for some time, so don’t start asking for a share of profits when there aren’t profits,” Pallister said after his speech.

Cannabis buyers are paying an excise duty of $1 per gram or 10 per cent of the price, whichever is higher. The federal government has offered to keep 25 per cent of the money and give the rest to the provinces.

Pallister’s message disappointed municipal leaders, who said they have to deal with increased policing costs and other expenses related to cannabis. The two-year freeze on municipal funding is also hurting, association president Chris Goertzen said.

“A two-year freeze does not recognize inflationary increases, and puts greater financial and administrative pressure on us as municipalities,” Goertzen told the convention.

Pallister did hint at new infrastructure spending and said he was talking to the federal government about new projects. But, he added, some projects could be delayed due to threatened legal action.

He pointed to a long-planned outlet on Lake Manitoba aimed at easing floods in the Interlake region. Pallister said lawyers from Toronto, whom he wouldn’t name, were in the region trying to drum up opposition to the work.

“I have a word of advice for the lawyers from Bay St. in Toronto that are coming up to communities in the Interlake and telling them that on contingency, they’ll make them a lot of money by threatening to delay these projects,” Pallister said.

“And my advice to those lawyers is — get a job. Get a real job.”

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