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Manitoba government to table austerity budget

Finance minister Cameron Friesen, Premier Brian Pallister

The Progressive Conservative government of Premier Brian Pallister is expected to deliver an austerity budget this afternoon.

The Canadian Press reports, “Finance Minister Cameron Friesen, who introduced legislation to freeze public-sector wages last month, [confirms] a CBC report that the province was exploring the possibility of privatizing its fixed-wing air-ambulance service, and left the door open to other privatization.”

It adds, “Friesen also said some provincial tax credits will be cut, although he did not specify whether [that would include] tax credits for film and television productions and income-tax rebates for post-secondary graduates who stay and work in Manitoba.”

The article also notes, “The province has recently moved to allow for tuition hikes of more than five per cent a year. It has also paused a program of grants for community economic development called Neighbourhoods Alive. Last week, the government announced it would close three of Winnipeg’s six hospital emergency rooms and convert them to centres of less-urgent care.”

In addition, on March 16, the Pallister government introduced Bill 24, the so-called Red Tape Reduction and Government Efficiency Act. If passed, the legislation would reduce the number of drinking water infrastructure inspections and promote public-private partnerships (P3s) in the province.

CBC explains, “Bill 24 eliminates or amends a number of acts the government has deemed ‘outdated, contradictory, complicated or ineffective’. The amendment to the Drinking Water Safety Act reduces the frequency with which a public or semi-public water supplier has to test their infrastructure.” Bill 24 would also repeal the Public-Private Partnerships Transparency and Accountability Act. “The bill [would] end a requirement that major capital projects done in partnership with the private sector first undergo a study to compare the benefits of doing them entirely with public funds.”

The omnibus bill would also repeal the Health Services Act, the Manitoba Natural Resources Development Act, end the requirement that the government report on the status of the province’s ecological reserves every five years, and end restrictions on hog barn and manure storage construction.

NDP MLA Andrew Swan, who was the Minister of Justice in the previous government, says, “The government has now introduced an omnibus bill that’s going to start weakening regulations that protect our drinking water, that protect our lakes and our rivers and that is going to weaken environmental regulation. It’s shocking that the government has decided, under the guise of cutting red tape, to put Manitobans at risk.”

Winnipeg-based Council of Canadians organizer Brigette DePape will be at the ‘Communities not Cuts!’ protest outside the Manitoba Legislative Building on Saturday April 22 starting at 11 am. The promotion for that protest says, “You are invited to join this family and child-friendly event to stand up for your community, and to stand against provincial budget cuts and legislative changes.”

The Council of Canadians chapters in neighbouring Saskatchewan are also now involved in a fight against Premier Brad Wall and his government’s austerity budget which includes an almost $5 million cut to public libraries, the dismantling of the Crown corporation the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (which provides passenger and parcel service for rural communities), cuts to funeral services for social assistance recipients, removing the provincial sales tax exemption from children’s clothing, while at the same time giving multiple tax breaks to corporations.