Manitoba Tories promise another tax cut while the NDP talk health care

WINNIPEG — Manitoba Progressive Conservatives promised a tax break for restaurant diners Friday. It was the latest in a string of tax-cut promises that has so far covered home purchases, income and even trees.

The Tories promised to remove the seven-per-cent provincial sales tax from restaurant meals, including takeout and deliveries. The move is aimed at making dining more affordable for customers and helping a restaurant industry that was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We've heard loud and clear from restaurant owners that they need some support to get back up and running again," said Jeff Wharton, a cabinet minister seeking re-election in the Red River North constituency north of Winnipeg.

Less than two weeks into the campaign for the Oct. 3 election, the Tories have also promised to cut personal income taxes, eliminate the payroll tax on companies, exempt first-time homebuyers from the land transfer tax, and eliminate the sales tax on flowers and trees.

The New Democrats, who have been in Opposition since 2016, said the Tories are touting tax cuts instead of addressing long waiting lists and staff shortages in health care.

"Manitobans' number one priority is making health care better," read a prepared statement Friday from the NDP campaign.

The tax cuts are also a sign that a re-elected Tory government would have to cut health care and education to make up for the lost revenue, the NDP said.

For the third day in a row, NDP Leader Wab Kinew held a news conference outside a hospital to promise more money for health care.

An NDP government would speed up the accreditation process for some internationally educated health professionals and put up $1 million for workers who need extra courses for accreditation, he promised.

""We have a five-point plan that we're announcing here today to tap into these hundreds of health-care workers who are already in Manitoba as we speak, so that they can practise their full set of skills and take care of you," Kinew said.

The Tories said their promised tax cuts are needed to help people with the rising cost of living and further spur economic growth.

The province can afford the tax cuts because the economy is already growing strongly and several major projects are looming, including a solar glass plant in Selkirk and an aviation fuel factory in Portage La Prairie, the Tories said.

"There's estimates that we could have an additional $3 billion over the next decade in revenue just because of those projects," Tory cabinet minister Kelvin Goertzen said in Rockwood, north of Winnipeg. Goertzen was at an Arctic char operation, where he promised $20 million to expand the province's aquaculture industry.

A political analyst said the Tories are aiming to take attention away from health care after facing steady criticism during the pandemic.

"The Tories, I think, are throwing things up to get Manitobans to think about things other than health care," said Royce Koop, who teaches political studies at the University of Manitoba.

"They're trying to switch things to issues that favour them and the NDP is trying to keep attention on an issue that favours them."

-- With files from Brittany Hobson

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2023.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press