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‘A significant document’: Health care-heavy Manitoba budget released

Manitoba’s 2024 budget has been unveiled, and unsurprisingly, it has a heavy focus on improvements to the provincial health-care system.

At a press conference Tuesday, Manitoba’s premier called the budget announcement “good news today.”

“(The budget is) a significant document that charts a very positive path forward,” Wab Kinew said. “We’re delivering on a huge number of commitments we made in the recent provincial election.

“On a personal level it is a huge honour to have the opportunity to bring this forward to you, the people of Manitoba… I just want to acknowledge that today is a big day.”

Click to play video: 'Manitoba PCs, NDP exchange shots in legislative assembly on budget day'

Manitoba PCs, NDP exchange shots in legislative assembly on budget day

Health care
Improving health care was a key piece of the NDP government’s election campaign, with promises to reopen closed emergency rooms, recruit and hire additional staff, and reduce wait times across the province.

In his inaugural budget as finance minister, Adrien Sala says the government intends to make good on many of those promises, with a record $8.2 billion — representing a 13.5 per cent increase — slated for health spending.

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“For years we’ve heard about the frustrations and burnout from patients and from health-care workers,” Sala said.

“The previous government took advantage of this hopelessness. They wanted Manitobans to think that the best they could do is the best we could do. We’re proving them wrong.”

The budget accounts for the hiring of 1,000 health care workers — 100 doctors, 210 nurses, 90 paramedics, and 600 health care aides. Kinew said Tuesday that the province would like to exceed those numbers if possible.

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There’s an additional $309.5 million for recruiting, retaining and training more health workers, which includes $66.7 million to increase bed capacity and reduce wait times in local ERs, and a further $635 million for capital investments, which is set to include the design of a new emergency room at Victoria Hospital.

The province has also pledged $22.3 million to seniors’ care, which includes funding for the office of an independent seniors’ advocate, as well as providing for more hours of care for seniors in personal care homes.

Sala said people in northern and rural parts of the province will also benefit from improvements to the health system.

“For families in rural and northern Manitoba who have watched, over the last seven years, as their health-care services have become fewer and farther away… no more waiting for the ambulance to finally arrive.

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“No more medical mystery tour, wondering which hospital has a doctor and when you’ll finally get the care you need.”

The budget calls for more advanced care paramedics to be trained to serve rural and northern areas, as well as increasing the number of ambulances available.

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CancerCare will also see a boost, with $112,000 of a total $6.9 million earmarked for pre-design work on a new headquarters, as well as increased research capacity and access to medications.

Also on the health front, the province will make prescription birth control free for all Manitobans and give families pursuing fertility treatments a leg up by doubling the maximum fertility treatment tax credit.

The province is also cracking down on vaping, with a planned doubling of the federal excise duty on vaping substances produced in or exported to Canada, beginning January 1, 2025.

The budget includes more than $11 million for mental health and addiction services, including hiring 20 mental health workers to work with law enforcement, more detox beds and sobering sites, as well as $2.5 million toward a supervised consumption site.

Gas tax
As expected, the province has committed to extending the gas tax holiday for an additional three months. Initially put in place Jan. 1, the finance minister said the tax holiday was extended in part due to the Imperial Oil pipeline shutdown last month, which had a temporary impact on fuel availability for Winnipeg and the surrounding area.

Using the province’s example of an average single-vehicle family, that represents a saving of $187.50 over the entirety of the nine-month tax holiday, or $375 for a family with two vehicles.

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“With our cut to the gas tax, we’re saving Manitobans 14 cents per litre every time they fill up their tank,” the minister said.
“For us it was an easy decision. And it made a real impact. It drove down inflation in Manitoba, it lowered inflation for Canadians across the country. It helped working people.”

Additionally, the province is highlighting a five per cent decrease to auto insurance rates, a $4,000 rebate for new electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, and a $2,500 rebate for used EVs and plug-in hybrids.

Kinew called the move “a significant step toward electrifying transportation in Manitoba.”

Click to play video: 'Manitoba budget preview'

Manitoba budget preview

Housing
The province aims to help middle-class families with the introduction of a $1,500 homeowners’ affordability tax credit, as well as an increase to $575 for the renters’ tax credit, as well as an increase to the seniors’ top-up.

Beginning in the 2025 tax year, the homeowners’ affordability tax credit will replace the existing school tax rebate and education property tax credit, which the province says will reduce the complexity of the current system of school tax-related credits, as well as providing relief to a greater number of Manitoba households.

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The new model, the province said, effectively eliminates education property taxes for homes with assessed values of $285,000 and lower, while homes on the higher end of values — $850,000 and up — will be negatively affected.

An additional $116 million is slated to build and maintain affordable and social housing, an increase of almost 30 per cent over the previous budget, Sala said.

“We’re building more housing than the previous government created over an entire term, and we’re keeping rents low with stronger rent control.”

The government is continuing its goal to end chronic homelessness in Manitoba within two terms, with $8 million in the 2024 budget set aside to help families at risk of homelessness to afford clean and safe housing.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba PCs, NDP exchange shots in legislative assembly on budget day'

Manitoba PCs, NDP exchange shots in legislative assembly on budget day

Education
The province is increasing funding for K-12 schools across the province by $104.2 million.

School funding includes $30 million for a universal school nutrition program, $51.5 million in operating costs for public schools, and $10.9 million to independent schools.

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Two new K-8 schools are budgeted for — Ecole Mino Pimatisiwin in the Seven Oaks division, and Ecole Sage Creek Bonavista in the Louis Riel School Division. Further funding will also be available to finish construction of new schools in Morden, Steinbach, and Sage Creek.

Child care is also set for a revamp, with $2.5 million slated to extend $10-a-day care to include non-school days, like in-services and spring and summer breaks.

An additional $15.9 million will be spent to support new child-care spaces and their associated operating costs, including the previously-announced funding of 4,947 new school-aged spaces. A total of $5 million in the budget is earmarked for increased funding for child-care worker wages, as well as workforce capacity.

The province says it’s set to begin work on more than 40 new child-care centres, to be located in schools and post-secondary campuses.

Landfill search
The province says it’s putting significant funding toward protections and support for Manitobans impacted by gender-based violence, as well as $20 million toward a search at the Prairie Green landfill for the remains of three women believed to be there.

The search for the remains of homicide victims Marcedes Myran, Morgan Harris, and an unidentified woman who is being called Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe — or Buffalo Woman — has been a controversial topic, and the subject of numerous protests over the past few years.

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In the fall 2023 election campaign, Kinew and the NDP pledged to support a search, while incumbent premier Heather Stefanson and the PCs were steadfastly opposed to it. Numerous studies have been done on the feasibility of a search — and the health concerns that go along with it.

Sala called it a “difficult” topic, but one that needed to be addressed.

“There are three murdered Indigenous women in a Manitoba landfill. They are loved. Their lives were sacred. They deserve respect, no matter what the billboards say,” he said, referring to PC campaign ads opposed to a search.

“Their families deserve closure. This is about who we are: one people with one future. Manitobans don’t leave anyone behind.”

Click to play video: 'Expect more healthcare funding: finance minister on provincial budget day'

Expect more healthcare funding: finance minister on provincial budget day

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