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Manitoba budget earmarks $1.2 billion for fight against COVID-19, cuts taxes

Last Updated Apr 7, 2021 at 7:26 pm CDT

WINNIPEG (CityNews) — The Manitoba government pledged to continue its fight against COVID-19 in the province as detailed in the release of its new budget on Wednesday afternoon.

Manitoba has earmarked $1.18 billion for its COVID-19 costs for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding says that money will cover personal protective equipment (PPE), vaccine deployment, education supports and more.

“As we enter this second year of the pandemic, it is clear that Manitobans have endured much that could never have been anticipated,” Fielding said in his budget speech. “We thank Manitobans for their resilience, their patience and their optimism during this time of great challenge.

“This government will not rest until COVID-19 has been put to rest.”

The budget saw Manitoba’s health-care funding increase by $156 million to the highest total in provincial history.

Of the new health-care money, $230 million is being earmarked for PPE, testing and vaccine site infrastructure and contact tracing.

Another $100 million will be spent on the province’s vaccine program to ensure Manitobans continue to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. As of Tuesday, roughly 14 per cent of adults in the province had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The government is pledging a further $350 million in additional health-care investments to combat future waves of the virus.

A further $40 million is being spent on reducing wait times for surgeries delayed by the pandemic and nearly $10 million to add roughly 120 personal care home beds.

Economic recovery and other sectors

The budget also puts $62 million towards helping businesses retrain employees and developing online stores. An extra $25 million is set aside for youth job programs.

Also part of the economic bounce-back plan: a record $2.1 billion for infrastructure, including roads, schools, and the new St. Boniface emergency department.

WATCH: Indigenous leader says 2021 budget lacks support for Indigenous people

Other areas of focus in Manitoba’s new budget: cancer treatments, mental health services, seniors and child care, rent assist programs, infrastructure works and emergency expenditures to prepare for floods, fires and droughts.

“Budget 2021 has two clear goals: protect Manitobans and their services through COVID-19 and advance Manitoba and its economy past COVID-19,” said Fielding.

Tax cuts: more money in pockets of Manitobans

The Progressive Conservative government’s budget also followed through on two earlier tax promises.

One was to start phasing out the education tax on property, and the other was to eliminate the provincial sales tax on personal care services such as haircuts.

The province pledged a 50 per cent reduction in education taxes, 25 per cent per year for residential and farm properties and 10 per cent for other properties.

That means an estimated 658,000 property owners will get rebate cheques averaging more than $1,000 over the next two years.

The province says it will re-invest an estimated $23 million into the system to cover this.

WATCH: Business, Chamber of Commerce find good and bad in budget

“As a government we believe now more than ever before that Manitobans deserve a break quite frankly,” said Premier Brian Pallister. “They deserve to keep a little bit more of their hard-earned money, especially in these pandemic challenged times.”

Vehicle registration fees will go down 10 per cent starting in July.

The province is also promising to index basic personal tax thresholds to inflation. The government estimates an extra 1,500 Manitobans will not pay taxes next year as a result.

Fielding said the tax cuts were needed, even as Pallister’s government is projecting a 1.6-billion-dollar deficit.

Requests from City of Winnipeg

The City of Winnipeg made three key requests: funding for the revamped North End Water Treatment Plant, more money for transit and a promise that the province will continue to fund municipal services at the same level as the previous year.

What the province promised today: there is $81.5 million remaining in their funding for the North End project — it will be flowed out as negotiations progress.

A similar message on transit. Once the city finalizes their new plan, the province says negotiations can begin on more funding. For now, transit funding will flow out of an estimated $75 million for capital.

We know Manitobans deserve a break, especially during this pandemic,” said Fielding. “That’s why we will take even more steps to protect your incomes by reducing the taxes you pay and helping you keep more of your hard-earned money with you, where it belongs.”

And there are some new taxes on the way: streaming services, online marketplaces, and online accommodation sites will be sales tax eligible.

–with files from The Canadian Press