By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is issuing a second round of cheques to help people deal with inflation in a move that critics say has more to do with boosting the governing Progressive Conservatives’ chances in the next election.
Everyone who filed tax returns last year with a net family income of less than $175,000 will be eligible under the plan announced Thursday. Single people are to get a payment of $225. Couples will receive $375.
“We are committed to helping Manitobans make ends meet and truly hope this … will help ease the strain many Manitobans are facing this winter,” Premier Heather Stefanson said at a news conference inside a Winnipeg grocery store.
The cheques are different from a first round of payments last fall that was limited to families with kids under 18 and low-income seniors. The cost of the new program is $200 million — more than double that of the first round.
The theme of the benefits has also changed. Last fall the program was aimed generally at rising inflation. The new program is called the Carbon Tax Relief Fund — a shot at the federal government’s imposition of carbon pricing on Manitoba and other provinces that have refused to impose their own pricing regime that meets federal requirements.
“It’s very clear to us that the federal Liberal-NDP coalition is not going to reverse this decision (to impose the carbon pricing system),” Stefanson said.
A report last year from the parliamentary budget officer, an independent analysis body that reports to Parliament, said the average Manitoba family pays less in federal carbon pricing than it receives in federal carbon rebate cheques. But when estimated indirect effects, such as relative drops in capital investment and labour income are added in, the carbon price is costing the average Manitoba family more, the report states.
The Opposition New Democrats said the province appears to be trying to score political points by mailing out cheques and picking a fight with Ottawa. The next provincial election is slated for Oct. 3 and the Tories have been trailing the NDP in opinion polls for more than two years.
“The government has to go to the polls in a few months and here they are. They’re going to send cheques to everybody in the province,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
A poverty rights group said the cheques aren’t targeted at those who need help the most.
“Some of the wealthiest Manitobans are going to be getting the same relief cheque as some of the lowest-income Manitobans,” said Josh Brandon of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.
Many low-income earners don’t file income tax returns and won’t get a cheque, he added.
Cheques based on income tax returns are the fastest way to get money into people’s hands, Stefanson said.
The government is sending out the cheques at a time when the province has run deficits every year since 2009, with the exception of a small $5-million surplus in 2019.
The government is seeing revenues increase as the economy rebounds from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stefanson said.
The province is also getting a 19 per cent boost in equalization payments from Ottawa for the fiscal year that starts in April. It is also hoping for a new health-care agreement with Ottawa that would boost federal health transfer payments.