By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is suspending many new health-care capital projects, including some personal care homes that have already been announced, while it reviews the province’s finances and health-care needs.
“All projects are under review. I’m currently evaluating and assessing all projects to ensure that our approach, moving forward, is one that strengthens health care and is also financially responsible,” Uzoma Asagwara, minister of health, seniors and long-term care, told reporters Tuesday.
Among the projects on hold is a care home in Lac Du Bonnet that has been discussed since 2012. It was one of six care homes promised in July by the former Progressive Conservative government, and had a sod-turning ceremony shortly before the Oct. 3 election that saw the New Democrats sweep the Tories from office.
“We were at the point where we had contractors already signed up,” Lac Du Bonnet Mayor Ken Lodge said Tuesday.
“The eastern (Manitoba) municipalities are probably going to be sending a letter to the premier’s office, stating that their hope is to get this thing moving as quickly as possible, and to basically stand by their word.”
The Progressive Conservatives, now in Opposition, said Kinew had promised a new personal care home in Lac Du Bonnet in an opinion piece in a weekly newspaper in the area in August.
“At a time when we need more senior housing beds, the NDP are cutting them and causing delays,” said Derek Johnson, Tory critic for seniors and long-term care.
Also affected by the review are planned personal care homes in Arborg, Oakbank, Stonewall and Winnipeg that were planned and approved under the former Tory government, Johnson said, and which would add a total of 670 beds.
Asagwara said the review is needed in part because of a deficit that has ballooned since the last Tory budget in the spring. A recent fiscal update forecasts a deficit of $1.6 billion — more the quadruple the original prediction.
“It’s a pretty big financial mess that our government has to clean up while also making sure that we’re investing in and strengthening health care,” Asagwara said.
The review is also to look at issues including where staffing is available to support new facilities, said Asagwara, who did not commit to a timeline for making a decision on whether the projects will proceed.
“It’s going to take time. It’s not a process that I’m interested in rushing.”
Manitoba has registered deficits in every year but two since 2009.
The fourfold increase in red ink from this year’s original budget plan was due in part to forecast losses at Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro, where low water levels from a dry summer have reduced power-generating capacity.
Also adding to the red ink are recent collective agreements for health-care workers that included wage increases.
The NDP has blamed the former Tory government, saying it did not set aside money for its commitments. The Tories have fired back and have accused the NDP of laying the ground for future tax increases.