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Manitoba’s Finance Minister says tax cuts for individuals and businesses, record spending in a number of areas and a reduced deficit are a good sign of things to come for Manitoba’s economy.

Cameron Friesen spoke to reporters at the Manitoba Legislature just prior to delivering the 2018 budget to the Legislative Assembly. 

“We have met our targets,” Friesen said. “We are doing what we said we would do. We are building trust in government by doing good work on behalf of those who put us here and at the same time we are working for those who need our care and concern.”

Friesen said Budget 2018 reduces the provincial deficit by $319 million from Budget 2017.

He also touted the government’s increased spending in the Education and Training, Health, Seniors and Active Living and Families departments.

While Friesen says the 2018 budget follows through on promises the province has made, the opposition and some community leaders disagree.

NDP leader Wab Kinew says the budget was full of “broken promises” and will negatively affect front-line services, which he says Pallister has vowed to protect.

Kinew also expressed frustration over the government’s decision to decrease funding in a number of areas. He’s concerned about funding cuts to post-secondary institutions, the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba and highways infrastructure funding, which includes the building and repairing of highways and all weather roads.

In the 2017-2018 fiscal year, funding for highways infrastructure was at $502 million. The province has lowered it to $350 million this year.

Kinew believes it could be a great opportunity to create jobs.

“As the snow melts and the potholes emerge and Manitobans don’t see the road repairs they’re expecting, they should ask the government why that opportunity isn’t being used to put people to work at a time when we have an issue with the unemployment rate,” Kinew said.

Manitoba Federation of Labour President Kevin Rebeck was also surprised by the significant cut in spending for highway repairs. He says this budget doesn’t do much to ease the concerns of Manitoba workers or Manitobans looking for work.

“This budget was a missed opportunity,” Rebeck said. “The economy is slowing down and people were looking for job creation from this government."

"Instead they’re seeing reductions.”

Other main highlights outlined in the 2018 provincial budget include:

  • Increasing the threshold under which people pay no income tax by $2,020 over a two year period
  • Raising the small business tax threshold to $500,000 from $450,000, a move the province says will save businesses $6,000 a year and put $7 million back into the economy each year starting in 2019
  • Investing $102 million dollars to establish a conservation trust to fund projects under the Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan
  • Investing a record $6.2 billion in Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living, including an additional $14 million for the Home Cancer Drug Program, $7.7 million for expanded dialysis treatment and $3.1 million for rare disease drugs and the creation of 60 new paramedic positions
  • Decreasing ambulance fees 32 per cent from $425 to $340
  • Increasing funding to Manitoba Families by $60.5 million, $13 million of which will go towards Community Living DisABILITY services
  • Increasing education funding by $13.7 million and confirming the construction of five new schools
  • Confirming funding to complete the ‘Freedom Road’ and other infrastructure projects
  • Partnering with the federal government to invest $176.8 million in agricultural initiatives
  • Investing in Look North, the long term plan for growth and promoting tourism in Northern Manitoba
  • Committing $16 million to re-establish the Manitoba Film and Video Production Tax Credit

The province did not include cannabis legalization in the budget. Friesen says they made that decision because they don’t know how much money they are going to make from those revenues yet.

The province did, however, include its carbon pricing plan, which is set to take effect in September and will introduce a carbon tax of $25 per tonne over a five year period.

Friesen also said the government is still on track to lower the PST from 8 per cent to 7 per cent by 2020, which would fulfill one of Premier Brian Pallister’s main promises from when he was elected in 2016.

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