TORY Opposition Leader Brian Pallister set himself up as the champion of Manitoba's poor in his first day at the legislature Tuesday, condemning the NDP for putting too much spin on the new IKEA store and not enough on tax breaks for low-income breadwinners.
"For heaven's sake, they spent more time talking about shopping opportunities at IKEA than they did about the over 60,000 Manitobans that had to use food banks," Pallister told reporters, referring to the Selinger government's throne speech on Monday
"Get your priorities straight. This is not about Marie Antoinette. This is about real situations that are facing real people in our province."
Pallister again called on the NDP to immediately raise the basic personal tax exemption -- the amount at which people start paying income taxes -- to put more cash in Manitobans' pockets.
The Progressive Conservatives said last month the basic exemption should rise to the Canadian average of $10,617 from $8,634, a move that would save every Manitoban about $200 a year and save lower-income couples $400 a year. The governing NDP says that would rob the provincial treasury of $140 million -- a move that would not help the province climb out of deficit.
Pallister also said the NDP's new "tax whack" on haircuts over $50 and some insurance products hurt seniors and students and is partly to blame for Manitobans being the biggest users of food banks in the country.
Premier Greg Selinger said the NDP has increased the basic personal exemption by about 25 per cent since Pallister was an MLA under former premier Gary Filmon more than a decade ago.
"When he was last in office and thought things were great, the personal exemption was $7,231," Selinger said, adding the NDP has ushered in other tax measures to make the province one of the most affordable places.
"When it comes to exemptions, we've made dramatic progress on that, certainly more than anything the member opposite accomplished during his time in the legislature."
Pallister said lower-to-middle-income Manitobans are paying more for items like gas, home insurance and personal services through tax increases brought in last July.
"I want to stand with the working people of this province who are having a real struggle right now dealing with a monumental tax increase that the NDP have imposed, the biggest in a quarter of a century," he said.
"With all due respect, IKEA's construction is exciting. It's in my riding. I understand it's a wonderful opportunity for our province. I don't think it's the biggest priority.
"When it gets a major mention in the throne speech, but poor children don't get talked about, I think the government is being Pollyanna and it's wrong."