Education rebates on hold over ‘corporate welfare’ stand by Opposition

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WHILE the province is promising education property tax rebates will be issued by the time Manitobans’ tax bills are due at the end of June, the minister of finance says the NDP is threatening to delay the process.

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WHILE the province is promising education property tax rebates will be issued by the time Manitobans’ tax bills are due at the end of June, the minister of finance says the NDP is threatening to delay the process.

The Opposition isn’t supporting a $350-million appropriation bill the government introduced to send education tax rebates of 37.5 per cent to residential property owners and 10 per cent rebates to commercial property owners.

“I just find it very, very surprising that the Opposition party is choosing to stand between Manitobans and an important area of tax relief,” Cameron Friesen said Tuesday in a phone interview from Toronto, where he and Premier Heather Stefanson are meeting with banks and economists.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“When Manitobans are saying what they want is tax relief, I think that raises a lot of questions about the wisdom of this approach.”

The Progressive Conservative government has the cash reserves and the legal authority to send the rebate cheques out without passing the bill but is engaging in “political theatre,” countered NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw.

New Democrats are opposed to the 10 per cent rebate — that amounts to an estimated $40 million — for commercial property owners such as Cadillac Fairview (which owns Polo Park shopping centre), Wasyliw told reporters in a scrum.

“We are going to file an amendment to the appropriation bill seeking that $40 million be removed from it,” the MLA for Fort Garry said. What’s more, Wasyliw added, the province is having to borrow to pay for the 10 per cent rebate for wealthy commercial property owners, which he called “corporate welfare.”

“We don’t think Manitobans should be on the hook for the interest for that tax cut and we’re going to hopefully pass that amendments so Manitobans have a fair deal.”

In question period Tuesday, former finance minister Scott Fielding defended the government’s practice of cutting hefty rebate cheques to commercial property owners.

A recent report by the CBC found owners of 10 shopping centres and business towers in Winnipeg received more than $3 million in rebates combined. Cadillac Fairview received a rebate cheque of more than $1 million for CF Polo Park.

Wasyliw said the Tories’ tax program is benefiting out-of-province corporate landlords.

Fielding, now natural resources minister, disputed the assertion and argued commercial property owners are passing on the rebate to local tenants.

He quoted a letter to the editor published Tuesday in the Free Press to support his assertion.

Fielding said tenants at CF Polo Park would benefit from the rebate, singling out local restaurant Fergie’s Fish’n Chips and the Subway franchise at the mall.

Fielding did not take questions from reporters Tuesday. Followup questions sent to the province on the frequency and proportion of rebates passed on to commercial tenants were not answered by deadline.

Fergie’s owner Gus Tsouras said he pays a proportionate share of property taxes at the mall, along with other tenants at the St. James shopping centre.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Tsouras said he was unsure if the latest rebate would change his monthly rent and a call from a Free Press reporter was the first time he had heard of a potential tax break.

“When the cost of everything goes up, we pay more, and if they’re able to save some dollars or get rebates, it drops, so we pay a little less,” Tsouras said. “I’d like to hope, and I assume it’s correct, that if they got some sort of rebate towards those expenses in the mall it would trickle down to us.”

Meantime, Wasyliw called the Tories “out of touch” for suggesting the tax rebate is provided to commercial property owners is making it into the hands of business operators.

“We are in an affordability crisis and to suggest that these commercial landlords from Toronto, a company that’s worth $20 billion, is somehow hurting financially is just ridiculous,” Wasyliw said. “That money is not going to the tenants. It’s going to pad the pockets of an out of province corporation.”

A request for comment from Cadillac Fairview was not immediately returned.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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Updated on Wednesday, May 18, 2022 7:05 AM CDT: Adds photo

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