July 14, 2020

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Manitoba rolls out $100M in new spending

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Premier Brian Pallister announced Friday new pandemic response measures, including a fund to speed up the production of made-in-Manitoba protective gear, plans to build three temporary hospitals, and pledging relief for homeowners and business, and more shelter space for the homeless.

"We have to have a province to come back to after this, and we will lead the country in rebounding," he said at a news conference Friday.

The $100-million COVID-19 procurement fund will help businesses to tool-up operations and workforces to manufacture essential medical supplies and equipment such as gowns, masks and face shields.

"This pandemic will place extra strain on our health-care system, and we're already seeing that," he said. "This is why we're doing everything can we can to increase resources for our front-line (care) providers, to secure the medical supplies and protections they need to care for Manitobans."

Premier Brian Pallister announced a new fund Friday that will speed up the production of protective gear, build three temporary hospitals and add more shelter space for the homeless. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Premier Brian Pallister announced a new fund Friday that will speed up the production of protective gear, build three temporary hospitals and add more shelter space for the homeless. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

The province has redesigned its online vendor portal to streamline the process for manufacturing personal protective equipment in high demand around the world, he said.

A request for proposal is being issued to secure temporary space for a potential low-acuity hospitals in the Brandon, Thompson and Winnipeg regions, Pallister said. Plans are also underway to line up hotel accommodation for people who need a place to be in self-isolation or to recover from COVID-19.

United front

OTTAWA — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says his fellow premiers are onside in his efforts to have Ottawa establish an emergency credit agency.

Last week, Pallister said he would ask the federal Liberals to create a mechanism that would extend loans to provinces at a cheaper interest rate than what they could access on their own.

OTTAWA — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says his fellow premiers are onside in his efforts to have Ottawa establish an emergency credit agency.

Last week, Pallister said he would ask the federal Liberals to create a mechanism that would extend loans to provinces at a cheaper interest rate than what they could access on their own.

“Every premier agrees,” the Manitoba premier told reporters Friday.

Ottawa has instead chosen to buy provincial securities, arguing it will more effectively stabilizing provincial cashflows.

Pallister has disagreed, saying it is helpful for stabilizing banks but leaves provinces competing for bond deals for the bulk of debt needs. He said Manitoba might need to borrow $5 billion in this fiscal year to finance health and social service.

The premier said borrowing at double the interest rate Ottawa could secure over three decades would cost Manitoba hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“This is an issue over whether you want stronger banks or stronger health care,” Pallister said Friday, saying premiers discussed it with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a Thursday phone call.

The office of federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau did not respond to a request for comment.

— Dylan Robertson

"We're hoping for the best and preparing for the worst," said Pallister, who also announced "cashflow tax relief," deferring provincial fees and charges. "I know some of you are getting fatigued and you're anxious about what's next."

For the next six months, until Oct. 1, Manitoba Hydro, Centra Gas and Manitoba Public Insurance won't charge interest or penalties to residents unable to pay their bills. Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp. has been directed not to charge interest on receivables from restaurants, bars and specialty wine stores. The Workers Compensation Board has been asked to extend relief from penalties for late payments.

Pallister said his government is working with municipal partners to ensure they don't charge interest on provincial education taxes and school division fees. It is also deferring provincial income tax and corporate income tax filing deadlines and payments to coincide with federal deferral of income tax to Aug. 31 (with the possibility of extending deferrals until Oct. 1, should the federal government extend it).

Until Oct. 1, Manitoba Public Insurance, Manitoba Hydro and Centra Gas won't charge interest or penalties to residents unable to pay their bills. (Bud Robertson / The Brandon Sun files)

Until Oct. 1, Manitoba Public Insurance, Manitoba Hydro and Centra Gas won't charge interest or penalties to residents unable to pay their bills. (Bud Robertson / The Brandon Sun files)

"This program is designed to give relief to those who need it most," Pallister said, imploring those who can pay their taxes on time to do so. "This is how we will continue to support the social programs that we depend upon in our province."

He said the government is adding more than 140 new shelter beds as part of social-distancing efforts.

Up to $1.2 million will be spent in Winnipeg to repurpose a vacant Manitoba Housing building on Sargent Avenue to create 31 new beds, adding 35 beds at Salvation Army's Martha Street location, expanding Siloam Mission’s capacity by 50 beds, and moving those staying at the Salvation Army’s SonRise Village to alternate locations, freeing up 26 beds for new clients.

The repurposed building on Sargent opened Friday, and is being managed by Main Street Project, which is partnering with other shelters to co-ordinate access among their clients. It may also be used as self-isolation units for those in need.

Missing from the premier's announcement is help for those living paycheque-to-paycheque and currently without any work, advocates said.

"Manitoba is still the only province that is not offering emergency income supports to workers who have lost their paycheques," Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck said in a prepared statement. "These workers need the Pallister government to step up and join the rest of Canada."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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