Manitoba projects deficit close to $2B, government launches health-care audits


The Manitoba government issued a new, higher deficit projection Friday and announced financial audits of health authorities to crack down on what it called overspending.

The deficit for the fiscal year that will end March 31 is now forecast to come in just under $2 billion — up from $1.6 billion in the last fiscal update in December. It would be the highest deficit ever in Manitoba outside of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NDP government, elected in October, has blamed the former Progressive Conservative government for making health-care promises that were not accounted for in the Tories’ budget a year ago.

“The increases in health-care expense were spurred by decisions made by the previous government but were unbudgeted,” Finance Minister Adrien Sala said.

Money was also not set aside for recent collective agreements that awarded salary increases to health workers, Sala said.

Financial audits are to be done at four of the province’s five regional health authorities as well as at Shared Health, the central planning body, Sala said, although he refused to say what prompted the move.

“Today, we won’t be speaking about the details of those audits,” Sala said.

Costs have also jumped by more than $200 million to set aside money to settle long-standing lawsuits in justice and social services. Sala again refused to provide any details or identify the lawsuits.

Another factor is the NDP government’s decision to temporarily suspend the provincial fuel tax, as of Jan. 1, for at least six months. That is costing the treasury an estimated $82 million in the first three months alone.

The extra red ink comes as Sala prepares his first budget, set to be delivered April 2.

Manitoba has registered deficits in every year but two since 2009, and the NDP has promised to balance the budget within its first term while also boosting health care.

“Our government will show that we can balance the need to invest in priority areas while we … find that path to balance,” Sala said.

   This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2024.

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