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NDP talks taxation, Tories talk health

Rate cuts; advocate on web for patients

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Premier Greg Selinger promised to cut taxes for farmers and homeowning seniors Sunday, while the Conservatives continued to make new pledges on health care.

Selinger said a re-elected NDP government would eliminate the school tax for seniors, a move that the party projects would save them $35 million a year.

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"By eliminating the school tax for seniors, they will no longer have that burden, and it will make it easier for them to remain in their homes for as long as they wish to," the premier said at a home in Royalwood in the constituency of Southdale.

He also vowed to eliminate the education tax on all Manitoba farmland, which would save farmers a collective $14 million a year. In recent years, the NDP has provided increasingly higher credits to farmers in lieu of school taxes. The province is now offsetting 80 per cent of such taxes.

Selinger said the current NDP administration is "the only government we're aware of" in Manitoba history to eliminate five taxes. The other three were the education support levy, the small-business tax and the capital tax on business, he said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen said the NDP's tax-cut plan sounds as credible as its pledge in 1999 to end hallway medicine.

"It doesn't sound at all as though he's committed to keeping the promise," McFadyen said. "It just sounds like a desperate promise and I think the numbers are being understated in terms of the impact on the budget.

"My first-blush response, when you exempt every senior from a property tax, is that it's going to be significant."

At a news conference at the campaign headquarters of River East PC candidate Bonnie Mitchelson, McFadyen said if he becomes premier, his government would spend $150,000 to create a patient-advocate website. It would guide Manitoban families through the health-care system, specifying such things as patient wait times, bed availability and other services like home care.

"It's primarily directed at caregivers and they're the ones who gave us the idea for this," McFadyen said. "It's modest, we realize, but it's one way of providing them with more information."

McFadyen said under the NDP, the information is scattered across multiple websites and links of Manitoba Health and the various regional health authorities. He said a PC government would also create a seniors health-care hotline with information on seniors health care.

As well, it would introduce geriatric emergency management nurses at the Grace and Concordia hospitals. The plan calls for specialized nurse clinicians to conduct comprehensive geriatric assessments, assist emergency staff with admissions, arrange for appropriate supports in the community and educate staff, patients and caregivers about geriatric issues. The program is based on one already in place in Ontario.

River East is one of several ridings at play this election as the NDP has made steady gains there in the past two votes. Mitchelson has represented it since 1986, but won it by only 52 votes over the NDP's Kurt Penner in 2007. Penner is running again this election.

Meanwhile, Southdale -- the location of Selinger's announcement on Sunday -- was Tory territory until the NDP's Erin Selby stole it from the Conservatives in 2007.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2011 A4

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