Manitoba Tories make another promise of financial aid without their leader

WINNIPEG — Manitoba Progressive Conservatives made another campaign promise of financial aid Thursday. And, for the second straight day, leader Heather Stefanson was not part of the event.

Scott Johnston, a Tory cabinet minister running for re-election in a west Winnipeg constituency, said if the Tories win the Oct. 3 election, they would let senior homeowners defer some or all of their property taxes until they sell their homes.

"This will save seniors on fixed incomes thousands of dollars and keep their everyday costs down," Johnston said. He was joined by Kevin Klein, another cabinet minister seeking to keep his seat in the city's western suburbs.

Seniors would be eligible regardless of their income, Johnston said. He described the program as cost-neutral because the homeowners would pay interest at the end, but admitted the province would have to put up money upfront by reimbursing municipalities for the deferred tax revenue.

Johnston also promised a $500 tax credit for people requiring wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility aids.

The announcement was the latest in a series of affordability promises by the Tories. It came one day after Rochelle Squires, a cabinet minister in a south Winnipeg constituency, promised to eliminate the land-transfer tax for first-time homebuyers.

Stefanson, who has not held a press conference since she kicked off the election campaign Monday, is sharing the spotlight with her candidates, Johnston said.

"She has every confidence in her team to be able to deliver messaging, particularly by ministers who are responsible for those portfolios," said Johnston, who was appointed minister for seniors and long-term care last year.

The Progressive Conservative campaign headquarters pointed out Stefanson has agreed to take part in three debates during the campaign.

A political analyst said it makes sense for Stefanson to let cabinet ministers get attention during the campaign because many represent suburban swing ridings and are fighting to get elected again.

"In an election like this, it actually makes some sense, I think, to give as much airtime as you can to those candidates," said Royce Koop, who teaches political studies at the University of Manitoba.

The Opposition New Democrats accused Stefanson of hiding.

"This is a job interview to lead the province of Manitoba and … so far Heather Stefanson has been no-showing the job interview," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

Kinew held a press conference outside the Grace Hospital in west Winnipeg and promised to hire 600 more nurses and end mandatory overtime for all nurses.

"We will start to fix the health-care staffing shortage," Kinew said.

An NDP government would lay out timelines to achieve higher nurse-patient ratios, similar to a plan in British Columbia, Kinew said. His promise was endorsed by the Manitoba Nurses Union.

The NDP have not yet released their full costed platform, but have pointed to unspent contingency money in the spring provincial budget as a way to pay for some of their promises.

Opinion polls have suggested the Tories are in an uphill battle to win a third consecutive mandate after sweeping the NDP from power in 2016. Stefanson, who took over as premier two years ago following the retirement of Brian Pallister, has loosened the province's purse strings after years of fiscal restraint that included public-sector wage freezes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2023.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press