Business leaders embrace Manitoba budget tax moves


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Manitoba Finance Minister Cliff Cullen has signalled to the business community his government’s big-spending budget will make the province more competitive.

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Manitoba Finance Minister Cliff Cullen has signalled to the business community his government’s big-spending budget will make the province more competitive.

In turn, Cullen got a warm reception for his presentation of budget highlights at a Manitoba Chambers of Commerce event Friday morning.

Raising the basic personal exemption and increasing the base rate on tax brackets — moves announced Tuesday — are something business groups had been calling for for years, as they looked at the taxation rates of nearby Saskatchewan and Alberta.

“This was a bold budget,” said Chuck Davidson, chambers chief executive officer, adding it took many years but he applauds the government for finally doing it.

“Those tax rates have only been tinkered with in the past. What they did this year takes away some of the barriers we have had in the past.”

Overall, the government claims the personal tax relief is going to leave $311 million in people’s pockets.

“People really do take that into consideration when they think about moving to another province,” Davidson said. “Taxes matter.”

When asked what small-business operators could take away from this budget, Cullen said: “No new taxes for business and more substantial changes in the future,” referring to on-going reductions in the payroll tax.

Cullen, who is retiring prior to this year’s Manitoba election, acknowledged the continued out-migration of young people from the province to start careers elsewhere.

“We have to be competitive with the rest of the country,” he said. “Unless you deal with that, people will leave the province.”

While taxation changes will affect everyone, there were not many specific direct benefits for business in the budget.

The province increased its contribution to the new venture capital fund by a further $50 million (to $100 million). There is more news expected next week on the progress the board has made in forming the organization that will manage those funds.

In the 2023-24 budget, the sector councils received close to a 10 per cent increase in funding, with much of that going to workforce development.

“This is important. It allows us to continue the work we’re doing,” said Kim Kline, president of Bioscience Association of Manitoba. “There is a new emphasis this year, with a high priority on making sure newcomers to the province from other countries make it into the workforce.”

Andre Brin, CEO of World Trade Centre Winnipeg, said while there was no specific new money for export development, the taxation relief is going to help all businesses, including those that are trying to develop international customers.

“The elements in the budget to entice business to grow and stay in place and to create jobs and create wealth are very encouraging and important,” he said.

“It will help the businesses that we are trying to support in their efforts to develop export business.”

However, even with employment going strong (another 4,900 jobs were created in February, according to Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey published Friday) worker advocates were not thrilled with the new budget.

Tanya Palson, executive director of Manitoba Building Trades, was critical of the government’s indifference towards apprenticeship development in the province. Since 2016, funding for apprenticeship seats has fallen by 31 per cent, she said.

With this budget committing $1.683 billion towards capital infrastructure projects (such as hospitals and schools), Palson said there is not going to be the human resources available to get the work done.

“It is not a play on words to say the province has defunded and reduced the number of apprenticeship seats even when industry says we need more and more people.”

While Cullen has touted a 6.1 per cent increase in funding for K-12 education, and greater connections between post-secondary institutions and workforce development needs, Palson said there is decreasing access to apprenticeship opportunities.

“This government is coming out saying there will be almost $2-billion worth of capital construction, even though we are barely keeping up with demand when they have not been spending,” she said. “Then they drop 10-years worth of projects — that they should have been doing in previous years — in an election-year budget and expect that we are going to be ready.

“It is not feasible to do what they are proposing.”

Martin Cash

Martin Cash

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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