Manitoba's New Democrats say hospital patients and their loved ones should be focused on their health and not parking fees.
The NDP has promised to give Manitobans two hours of free parking at surface lots and parkades near hospitals provincewide, if elected on Sept. 10.
"You don’t have to fumble around for change. You don’t have to reach for your credit card. All you have to do is think about your health or the health of the person you love," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
He estimated the promise would cost $3 million annually, but couldn't immediately explain how the party calculated that number.
NDP spokeswoman Emily Coutts later said there were about 280,000 unique visitors at Winnipeg Regional Health Authority urgent-care centres and emergency departments, as reported in the authority's last annual report. The NDP assumed an average parking cost of $8 per person (totalling about $2.25 million per year) and factored in an additional $750,000 for visits to other health centres.
It's unclear how the NDP would convince private or non-profit corporations that generate revenue from parking to change their business models, though Kinew said his government would "essentially just buy out the parking time from them."
The NDP leader said he would consider expanding the free parking hours to city streets, after discussions with city hall.
In 2016, the Free Press reported hospital parking revenue in Manitoba was estimated at about $100 million annually. The Health Sciences Centre raked in $8.8 million in visitor and staff parking fees in 2015.
Kinew acknowledged Manitobans may game the system to get more than two hours of parking free.
"I know Manitobans are great at taking advantage of a deal and I’m not going to spell it out on camera, but I’m sure Manitobans will figure out how to use this initiative to ensure that they have free parking whenever they get to a hospital," he said.
PC Leader Brian Pallister was quick to shoot down the idea, saying it "reveals Mr. Kinew's inexperience" and is "a risk we can't afford in Manitoba."
"The problem for Manitoba patients is the longest wait times in Canada. Under the NDP, we saw the longest wait times in Canada," Pallister said.
"Giving people free parking for a quarter or a fifth of the time they have to wait to get care is hardly finding the solutions that Manitobans want us to find."
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont called it "a nice idea in principle," but said it could be difficult to implement.
— with files from Larry Kusch
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.