Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province slower than most in deficit-slaying schedule

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Manitoba will take longer to balance its books than any other province save for Ontario, if current projections hold true.

A survey of the fiscal intentions of Canada's 10 provincial governments reveals most plan to stop running deficits at least two years earlier than Manitoba.

Premier Greg Selinger announced a revised schedule for balancing the books this week. The government is now shooting for 2016-17, instead of 2014-15, as previously promised. The old target placed Manitoba with the rest of the pack. The new one puts it near the rear -- although there is skepticism whether some of the other provinces will meet their own balanced-budget targets.

Manitoba Progressive Conservative deputy finance critic Reg Helwer said the province's ranking and its delayed return to a balanced budget sends the wrong signal to business. "It shows that this government can't manage," he said.

In delaying the return to surplus budgets, Selinger said Manitoba's finances, such as those in Ottawa and in other Canadian provinces, are being affected by a "fitful and uncertain" global economic recovery. Manitoba is also facing greater spending pressures in areas such as family services and justice, he said, and it is committed to avoiding cuts to key services such as health and education.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty warned in mid-November the feds might not be able to balance their books until 2016-17, a year later than promised. Later the same month, he backtracked, saying Ottawa might be able to meet its original target after all.

Some provinces have not updated their deficit-slaying projections for some time.

At least one, Nova Scotia, recently gave itself some wiggle room. Two months ago, NDP Premier Darrell Dexter speculated that an unexpected change in the size of federal transfer payments could push his province off its 2013-14 target date.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick's reigning Conservatives, who promised during the 2010 election to balance the province's books by the end of their mandate, have witnessed a $183-million deficit projected in March has now swollen to $356 million for the current year.

And there is also some skepticism about whether Christy Clark's Liberals can get British Columbia's books in the black by next year, as promised.

Ontario, which projects a $14.4-billion deficit in the current fiscal year, plans to balance its books in 2017-18.

John McCallum, a University of Manitoba economist, said Manitoba's ranking wouldn't matter much if it were mid-pack among provinces. "But when there are 10 provinces and you are last or second-last, that's what gets headlines."

The average Manitoban isn't likely to spend "more than a micro-second" contemplating the implications of a two-year delay in balancing the province's books, McCallum said. But job-creating entrepreneurs may worry that a province that is so far away from balancing its books may raise taxes.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

 

Balanced-budget targets, based on government reports and news releases

B.C.

2013-14

 

Alberta

2013-14

 

Saskatchewan

currently balanced

Manitoba

2016-17

 

Ontario

2017-18

 

Quebec

2013-14

 

Nova Scotia

2013-14

 

New Brunswick

2014-15

 

P.E.I.

2014-15

 

Newfoundland

2014-15

 

Ottawa

2015-16 or 2016-17

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2012 A4

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