Budget stops bleeding and gets province on right path, Friesen assures business crowd

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Finance Minister Cameron Friesen has a message for critics who say Tuesday's budget didn't go far enough to slay a huge government operating deficit.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/04/2017 (1945 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen has a message for critics who say Tuesday’s budget didn’t go far enough to slay a huge government operating deficit.

It could have been worse.

Speaking to a Manitoba Chambers of Commerce breakfast Wednesday, Friesen said the government was on a trajectory to incur a $1.2-billion deficit this fiscal year.

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen talks about the budget at a Manitoba Chambers of Commerce breakfast Wednesday morning at The Fairmont Hotel. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press)

He told the crowd of 300 that it took considerable effort to battle that trend and instead project an $840-million shortfall, a modest improvement from last year’s $872-million provincial deficit.

Last fall, when the budgeting process began, he said, a Treasury Board official was “ashen” when she informed him that reports from various government departments pointed to government facing a $1.2-billion deficit in the coming year.

“If this trajectory of expenditures exceeding revenues for the province of Manitoba were not to change, the trajectory went straight up to $1.7 billion by the (fiscal) year 2019-2020,” he said, repeating a figure Premier Brian Pallister used Tuesday.

Business leaders have expressed disappointment in the government’s reluctance to make quicker progress in slashing the deficit.

They’ve welcomed signals from the Progressive Conservatives that they will reduce burdensome regulations and red tape. But before the government can reduce corporate and personal income taxes it must get the deficit under control.

Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said the government, in its first year in office, has yet to lay sufficient groundwork to greatly boost business confidence.

“I don’t think that confidence is 100 per cent there yet, but it’s getting better,” he said.

Meanwhile, if people attending the breakfast crowd were disappointed in Friesen’s budget, they didn’t show it. The finance minister offered to take questions after he spoke; there were no takers.

During his remarks, Friesen urged the business audience to be patient. He said the Progressive Conservative government is instituting “fundamental” changes that will pay off down the road.

“We are changing (the) culture, we are changing the operation of government. We are focusing on — not ideology — but on implementation, on results. Of getting value for Manitobans,” he said.

Afterwards, he outlined several initiatives that the government hopes will provide better value for taxpayers’ money, including more public-private partnerships and improved procurement methods.

He also said the province will be looking at selling off some assets.

“We’re looking at the buildings we own and things like that and saying, ‘What do we need to own, what do we need to lease and what is the right mix of those things?’”

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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Updated on Wednesday, April 12, 2017 1:32 PM CDT: Updates

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