View From the Legislature

Spring Legislative Session Begins

  • Kelvin Goertzen, Author
  • Member of the Legislative Assembly, Steinbach

Last week the spring legislative session of the Manitoba Legislature officially began. While this marks the beginning of several months of daily question periods and debates, it is a continuation of other work that has been happening in January and February at the Legislature. During those months, a number of committees were held including ones that examined the annual reports of Manitoba Hydro and Manitoba Public Insurance to name just two.

The spring session in Manitoba and most Legislatures in Canada, is dominated by debate around the provincial budget and other financial matters. That is taking on greater importance this year as so many Manitobans are struggling with the high cost of food and housing. The ever-increasing federal carbon tax combined with higher food costs and high interest rates means that many families are struggling to keep up. In particular, Manitobans and Canadians have expressed concerned about the impact that higher government taxes may have on their households at this time.

Some early attention was focused on this issue on the first day of the new spring session as questions were asked about the recent announcements of higher school taxes. In some areas the proposed increases have been as high as 17%. While the NDP government indicated at the beginning of the year that school divisions would be given a substantial funding increase, it hasn’t prevented record levels of school tax increases from being levied on Manitobans. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be any indication from the NDP government whether Manitobans should be expecting significant year after year increases in school taxes. Hopefully more information related to long-term school funding will be shared in the provincial budget which is expected to be released on April 2nd.

That budget may also reveal the fate of some programs and initiatives that have been important in supporting communities. Shortly after coming into office, the NDP government quickly cut surgical programs for Manitobans and cancelled several capital projects like new schools and personal care homes that were set to begin. But there are other programs whose fate is still unknown such as the Building Sustainable Communities fund which supported many local non-profit and charitable causes. The NDP have not yet confirmed whether this and other programs are also on the chopping block.

With taxes going up and programs and projects being cut and cancelled, Manitobans may be wondering exactly where their tax dollars are going. The answers to some of these questions will be revealed when the budget is released in April. At that point, Manitobans will get a better idea of what the priorities of the new government truly are.

One thing is clear, curtailing tax increases doesn’t seem to be among those priorities. In particular, the new NDP administration has been reluctant to even speak against the coming increase to the federal Liberal Carbon tax scheduled for April. This despite the fact that it will have a direct impact on the cost of fuel, home heating and food. These are the very things that Manitobans and Canadians are struggling with the most. While the carbon tax is being imposed by another level of government, we have seen other provinces such as Saskatchewan take strong action in pushing back against these cost increases, but not so in Manitoba.

As the spring session unfolds it will be the first true test of the new NDP government. While early signs are that higher taxes and greater costs are on the horizon, hopefully a different direction is taken before budget day next month.