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Manitobans Invited to Decide 2024 Budget

The Manitoba Government wants to hear from Manitobans while they decide how the 2024 budget will be broken down. A survey posted to Engage MB asks Manitobans where their priorities lay, creating a direct line between voters and how their tax dollars are to be spent. 

Manitobans can take a quick poll, choosing between broad topics such as fixing health care, making communities safer, lowering the cost of living, investing in schools by providing nutrition programs and decreasing class sizes, creating jobs in Manitoba, climate change, Truth and Reconciliation, ending chronic homelessness, investing in sports and culture, and reducing the provincial deficit.  

A longer survey is available to individuals with a registered account on the Manitoba government website.  

“Our government is committed to stabilizing the province’s finances while taking action to fix health care and lower costs for people,” said Finance Minister Adrien Sala. “We want to hear from Manitobans on their priorities to make sure Budget 2024 meets the needs of Manitoba families.” 

Manitobans can answer the Engage MB survey, join town hall sessions via telephone, or attend in-person meetings held by government officials. People are asked to register for the telephone sessions as well as the in-person meetings.  

The in-depth survey asks how much of a priority each of the mentioned topics is to voters, whether each issue is a high priority, not a priority, somewhere in between or if they are unsure of their opinion. There is an additional section where those taking the survey can add additional opinions on what they feel the government should target in the coming budget. The survey goes on to ask specific questions regarding each subject.  

The subjects in the survey reflect promises the NDP have been standing on since they began their pursuit of the top office in the province. The Kinew government has long stated it will strengthen the health care system by hiring and retaining more doctors and nurses, which will ultimately reduce wait times for patients and reduce the degree to which nurses and doctors are being overworked. 

The survey comes little more than a week after it came to light the new government has inherited a provincial deficit of $1.6 billion. This, the largest debt the province has ever seen -outside the pandemic- is four times larger than what had been projected by the Manitoba PCs. In July, the PC party projected the province would have a deficit of around $363 million by the end of the year. 

“The outgoing PC administration didn’t budget for programs that count in the tens of millions of dollars,” Premier Wab Kinew told reporters. “It’s very clear now that budget 2023 and the PC government’s overall fiscal plan was nothing more than wishful thinking… In short, that has left our province with a significant fiscal mess.” 

Former premier and PC leader Heather Stefanson fired back, accusing the NDP of exaggerating the actual figures. 

“I would suggest maybe they’re looking at inflating those numbers as much as possible so that, in the spring, they can come out with numbers that make them look like heroes,” Stefanson said. 

Wherever the truth of the matter lies, the NDP has remained committed to the promises they’ve made to Manitobans despite the costs. Among Kinew’s promises, the NDP remains optimistic they will be able to balance the budget in their first term while also cutting taxes on income and gasoline starting January 1st. 

This, according to the Manitoba PCs, is a false promise. The promises made by the NDP amount to a bill of $3 billion and will come at the cost of elderly Manitobans. The PCs shared a post to X arguing as much, stating the recent pause of a senior care home in the Lac du Bonnet area as only the first example of how the NDP will cut health care in order to maintain their costly promises. 

Lac du Bonnet mayor Len Lodge voiced his concerns, mentioning the region has among the highest rates of seniors waiting to enter personal care homes. The paused project was slated to have 92 beds. There has not been a deadline given as to when the pause will be lifted. 

This project has already faced cancellation before. The care home was first announced by Greg Selinger’s NDP government in 2012 but was cancelled in 2017 by the PC party, then led by Brian Pallister. Heather Stefanson’s PCs announced the project would be readopted in July 2023, months before the provincial election. The Kinew government promised in August that the $65 million project would proceed. 

According to the PCs, two other personal care homes are set to be paused, one in Arborg and the other in Winnipeg. Details are sparse, and Deputy Premier Uzoma Asagwara had no additional information when asked. 

Asagwara did, however, have a response about the Lac du Bonnet care home. They referred to the deficit left by the PCs as the obstacle currently in the way of NDP progressing to fix health care in Manitoba. Asagwara said the province is reassessing all health care expenses to meet its health care goals while keeping its fiscal promises. 

“This is yet another cut from the NDP government that they tried to hide and let fly beneath the radar,” PC Seniors Critic Derek Johnson said at the legislative building. “We can’t take any of their promises at face value.” 

While the NDP often addressed the decline in Manitoba’s health care system throughout the campaign, they made little mention of personal care homes. The primary points touched on by the NDP were to create greater access to health care for all Manitobans by decreasing surgery and ER wait times, reopening emergency rooms and creating a greater environment for health care workers to ensure greater retention across the workforce. 

Among the official promises made by the NDP is the addition of 100 home care workers across the province and an increase in the number of beds in personal care homes. While the NDP has said they are reevaluating the province’s finances in order to address such issues, the Progressive Conservatives believe these are false promises. The PCs claim that the NDP is stopping hundreds of beds in Oakbank and Stonewall in addition to the previously mentioned locations. 

Steinbach MLA Kelvin Goertzen shared a snarky post to his X account, quoting Wab Kinew as having said: “This is one of those things you say in Opposition, and then you get in government, and it’s a bit more challenging, so we’re still working on that, to be frank.” 

Under the quote, Goerzten wrote, “Who knew governing is hard?” 

Despite the criticism from the Opposition PCs, the Kinew government showed strong support from Manitobans in the first months of the premiership. 

Thus far, in 2023, the Kinew government has the highest approval among Canadian premiers, with an approval rating of 57 per cent. In the October election, the NDP won a majority government after taking 45.5 per cent of the overall vote and 34 seats in the legislature. In the election, the NDP won northern ridings but took the election with force after winning nearly every riding in Winnipeg. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

Community Focus: Manitoba Filipino Seniors Group

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