Progressive Conservative Party Leader Brian Pallister called on the NDP Friday to attack its debt as the government puts together its spring budget.
In response, the Selinger government said compared to other provinces and the federal government, Manitoba's debt load isn't that bad.
"The willingness to admit a problem exists is essential before one can address it," Pallister said in what's become an almost weekly chit-chat with the media. "We don't see the NDP addressing this problem, this spending problem, because they don't acknowledge it as a problem."
Pallister said the current provincial debt sits at more than $27 billion. He said when the NDP took office in 1999, it was just over $13 billion.
"The NDP is in debt-doubling denial," Pallister said. "They do not believe this is a problem worth addressing."
He said when interest rates rise, even by just one per cent, the province will lose $270 million a year in servicing that debt.
He said the Selinger government's plan to curtail spending by amalgamating Manitoba Lotteries and the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission, plus merging municipalities under 1,000 population and trimming 600 civil service positions, has been ad hoc and unfocused.
In the past decade, when federal transfer payments to the province were high, the NDP failed to rein in its spending to take advantage of that extra money, Pallister charged.
The province's net debt is now projected to hit 27.1 per cent of gross domestic product this year, down from the budgeted projection of 27.4 per cent.
Provincial officials say Manitoba's debt-to-GDP ratio is fourth among provinces and below the federal government's 33.4 per cent. Only Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia have a lower debt-to-GDP ratio.
"Provinces across Canada are coping with the realities of uncertainty in the economy and facing rising deficits," Finance Minister Stan Struthers said. "The prime minister has even said that uncertainty is the new norm, yet Mr. Pallister ignores this reality."
Pallister declined to offer specifics on where the NDP could cut its spending, adding that before Struthers delivers his spring budget, the Tories will release their own budget plan.
Pallister's comments come after the Business Council of Manitoba released its budget recommendations, one of which called on the Selinger government to cut deeper into the civil service than the reduction of 600 positions promised. The council said more positions can be removed simply through attrition and redeploying personnel.
Manitoba added 422 civil servants to the provincial payroll last fiscal year while racking up a record $999-million summary deficit. The number of government employees stood at 15,300 on March 31. Struthers said earlier this week the province will not entertain deeper job cuts.
Finance Minister Stan Struthers is currently holding budget-consultation meetings. For a meeting location or to submit your thoughts online, go to www.gov.mb.ca/finance/consult/intro.