NDP Leader Wab Kinew promised Wednesday to continue a pair of Progressive Conservative budget measures if he’s elected premier of Manitoba this fall.
Kinew said if the NDP forms government after October’s provincial election, his party will retain a 50 per cent provincial property tax rebate and continue to index provincial income tax brackets to inflation.
Both measures were part of the PC budget in 2023. Kinew said an NDP government would have no choice but to continue them because Manitobans can’t afford to pay more taxes right now.
“Manitobans are struggling with high inflation. You’re feeling it every time you go to the grocery store, and so for us to ask you to pay more at this time would be wrong,” Kinew said at a campaign-style announcement on the rooftop patio of Tavern United in downtown Winnipeg.
Kinew said unlike Heather Stefanson’s PC government, an NDP government would not mail out property tax rebate cheques to individual owners — a move he described as a “pre-election bid” for votes.
Instead, a Kinew government would deduct the rebate from the property tax bills at the outset. Such a move would require the co-operation of every school board in Manitoba, something Kinew said he would negotiate.
The NDP leader would not, however, commit to the outright elimination of provincial property taxes, as former premier Brian Pallister once promised.
Cities, towns and rural municipalities in Manitoba have long complained about the task of collecting those taxes on behalf of the province along with municipal property taxes.
Kinew also would not rule out other forms of affordability measures for Manitobans but promised to gear those measures to people who need them most, as opposed to large corporations.
“We also know that the PC practice of mailing cheques to billionaires needs to end, when those billionaires live out of province,” he said, singling out the owner of Real Canadian Superstore.
“Galen Weston, who has been charging you more at the grocery store every single week, does not need a corporate handout from our provincial coffers while you’re struggling to get by each and every month.”
Kinew also said an NDP government would balance the provincial books within four years and would not raise the provincial sales tax, despite claims from the PCs earlier this year.
Focus on keeping Churchill port ‘alive and thriving’
He also pledged to find efficiencies within government and hinted at reversing provincial changes to health-care management that resulted in separate administrations at Manitoba Health, Manitoba Shared Health and the regional health authorities.
“There is a lot of waste under the PC-appointed bureaucracy at Shared Health,” Kinew said.
The NDP leader also criticized the PC management of Manitoba Hydro and said the province must invest in hydrogen generation and other forms of green power.
Kinew said he is willing to entertain the idea of building a new trade corridor in northern Manitoba but prefers the idea of shipping hydrogen through Churchill over a plan to build a second port at Hudson Bay for the transhipment of bitumen and liquid natural gas.
The Stefanson government agreed last week to spend $6.7 million on a feasibility study for a second Hudson Bay port.
Kinew said Churchill is more important for Manitoba’s future.
“The Churchill port is real. It’s operational. It has a rail line. You have unionized employees who can run it,” he said.
“So let’s ensure that our mining and energy exports are part of the basket of goods that will keep the Port of Churchill alive and thriving for generations to come.”
In addition to the economic promises, Kinew promised to begin a search of the Prairie Green landfill for the remains of Indigenous women “as soon as possible” after the NDP takes office.
Calls have been growing for a search of the privately run landfill just north of Winnipeg, where police believe the remains of two homicide victims were taken last year. Stefanson’s government has said it will not support a search, citing safety concerns.
He also pledged to end chronic homelessness, which he defined as being unhoused for six weeks of more, within 10 years in Manitoba.
He previously promised to end homelessness within two terms, or eight years.
Kinew said when he sees people living in a bus shack, he thinks, “way to go, Justin Trudeau. Way to go, Heather Stefanson. I thought this was a rich country.”
Progressive Conservative Finance Minister Cliff Cullen and Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont are expected to comment later Wednesday.