Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Manitoba has challenges ahead, says finance minister
Manitoba's Finance Minister started off his Saturday buying a new pair of shoes in advance of Tuesday's new provincial budget, Struthers first as lead minister in charge of the province's piggybank.
Stan Struthers bought the shoes at Gardner's Lifestyle Fashions in his home town of Dauphin, a gesture he says gives a nod to rural business growth not only in Dauphin, but other towns throughout Manitoba.
"There's a big resurgence," Struthers said Saturday. "We here in Dauphin think we're on a roll. We're feeling pretty confident."
Struthers will present the Selinger government's new budget Tuesday afternoon, a blueprint of spending priorities for the coming year.
The albatross around Struthers' neck, though, is the government's $1.1-billion deficit, a large part of it being the cost of flighting last year's widespread flooding -- a cost which rises each day with the ongoing cleanup and rebuilding. The province has spent more than $500 million in compensation under various programs so far.
"There's no doubt we have some challenges before us," Struthers said, adding economic pressures in Europe and the United States still pose a risk to the province's economic growth.
"It has an impact on our bottom line," he said.
However, Struthers said his budget will lay out a spending plan to wipe out the deficit by 2014, a date promised by the NDP before the flood hit, without sacrificing services.
He said that plan won't come at the expense of cuts to health care, eduction and infrastructure renewal, or be a carbon copy of the Harper government's recent budget that this week saw the announced closure of the Cereal Research Centre at the University of Manitoba and "workforce adjustment letters" sent to more than 775 Public Service Alliance of Canada workers in the three Prairie provinces.
Ottawa is also pulling out of a longtime agreement to provide shared settlement services for immigrants to the province, ending a program that until now has been successful in seeing increased immigration to the province.
"I think the people have voted for a government that will be steady and responsible," Struthers said. "They didn't vote for a government who will do damage to our economy. In spite of the backwards approach coming out of Ottawa, we will protect health care, education and infrastructure."
Critics of the NDP, including Progressive Conservative leadership challenger Brian Pallister, say the NDP is hiding behind the costs of fighting the flood to mask increased spending in areas such as family services and justice, two areas in which spending has been above budget. Critics also want the province to focus more effort on child poverty, such as increasing welfare rates, and on infrastructure renewal, like adding a one per cent increase to the province's sales tax.
Updated on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 1:53 PM CDT: adds video
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