MANITOBA property owners with property taxes due at the end of June will get their education tax rebates after the provincial government passed its spending bill Thursday despite opposition from the NDP.
Finance Minister Cameron Friesen had accused the NDP finance critic of misleading Manitobans for suggesting the bill was an example of "corporate welfare."
The government came under fire for huge anticipated payouts to commercial property owners as part of its $350-million rebate program.
Nearly $40 million will be distributed to commercial and industrial property owners in tax rebates this year. The NDP had argued tenants do not benefit from the rebate.
NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw said during question period Wednesday that corporations should pay their "fair share" to support education and health care.
Friesen insisted rebates sent to property owners will end up in the pockets of tenants.
"For the member to suggest otherwise, he is either incompetent and does not understand commercial leases, or he’s just misleading Manitobans, and to that, we say ‘shame,’" Friesen said.
Speaking with reporters later, Friesen said commercial leases often guarantee that tenants benefit when taxes are reduced. He said the NDP’s opposition to an education property tax rebate for big commercial properties is "disingenuous."
"These contracts are written so that the education property tax is paid up front — not by the mall, but by the tenants," Friesen said. "Then, when the education rebate comes back, it goes through that company, through to the tenants," the minister said.
"This is the way commercial leases work," he said Wednesday.
The NDP had opposed the government’s $350-million appropriation bill to issue 37.5 per cent rebates to residential and farm property owners because it includes a 10 per cent rebate for commercial property owners. The NDP said Cadillac Fairview, the company that owns Polo Park Shopping Centre, will get a $1 million rebate.
Friesen called that description "completely false" and based on a misunderstanding of commercial leases.
In a statement to the Free Press, Janine Ramparas, Cadillac Fairview vice-president of corporate communications, said she could not comment on the province’s rebate program but said "tax savings are realized by the numerous businesses that operate out of CF Polo Park."
Friesen said he has no qualms with businesses headquartered outside of Manitoba receiving a 10 per cent rebate on their education property taxes. About 92 per cent of the $350 million in rebates will go to residential and farm property owners.
"I believe in the economy," Friesen said. "I believe that when businesses come and open up and employ Manitobans… those are dollars that recirculate in our economies."
— with files from Carol Sanders
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.