By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is weeks behind its traditional time frame for consultations on the spring budget, and the Opposition New Democrats say it is a sign of dysfunction that also includes staff and cabinet changes.
The province normally announces a schedule for public consultations — both online and at in-person hearings — in the autumn, holds the hearings starting in late November or early December, and produces a budget in March or April.
A recent exception happened during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2020 and early 2021, when a small number of virtual and telephone hearings were held in January and early February.
There has been no announcement so far for the upcoming budget, although Finance Minister Cameron Friesen’s office says consultations will start shortly.
“Our 2023 budget public consultations are kicking off soon, providing opportunity to hear from Manitobans to determine their priorities for the upcoming budget,” Friesen’s office said a written statement this week.
“In terms of timing, there will be a public notice posted shortly indicating pre-budget consultation meeting details that will be available on the (government website).”
The Progressive Conservative government is in something of a transition period with an election slated for Oct. 3 and low polling numbers. Several caucus members, including four cabinet ministers, recently announced they don’t plan to run again.
Premier Heather Stefanson is preparing a cabinet shuffle that she has said will come within a few weeks. She also parted ways this week with two senior advisers — chief of staff Philip Houde and clerk of the executive council Don Leitch. She has not yet announced a replacement for Houde.
NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw accused the government of being distracted.
“What all this internal chaos from the PCs really means is there is no one actually focused on the business of governing and helping Manitobans,” Wasyliw said in a written statement Friday.
Friesen’s office said budget consultations will begin within a few weeks and the budget will come after the legislature returns from its winter break. The sitting is scheduled to run from early March to early June.
“We look forward to hearing from individuals across the province in the upcoming weeks to help shape the upcoming budget which is on track to be presented when the legislature resumes.”