WINNIPEG – The Manitoba legislature resumed for a brief pre-election sitting Wednesday with the troubled NDP government facing accusations that it is hiding bad financial news.
Opposition Leader Brian Pallister demanded the government table a full budget, instead of a planned shorter fiscal update, prior to the April 19 election. He accused Premier Greg Selinger of trying to hide details such as the extent of the deficit before voters go to the polls.
“I’d like the premier to explain to Manitobans why it is that he would hide the facts from Manitobans prior to this upcoming provincial election,” Pallister said in question period.
“Other provinces are all putting budgets forward … yet Manitobans are being kept in the dark by this premier.”
Selinger said the fiscal update planned for March 8 will contain deficit projections for the immediate future as well as revenue estimates and broad spending plans for each department. But the spending plans will be less detailed than in a full budget.
“All the background detail won’t be prepared yet. (We) just simply haven’t had time to do that, but we’ll give a very robust fiscal update and outlook,” he told reporters.
The reason, Selinger said, is that the federal government hasn’t yet revealed its budget, which can have an impact on the province’s revenues.
The NDP government has been lagging in opinion polls since it raised the provincial sales tax in 2013, contrary to an election promise. It has also twice pushed back plans to balance the books, and raised taxes on fuel, tobacco, home insurance and other items.
Selinger has stressed that the tax increase and deficit spending were needed to help the economy. He has stuck with that messaging despite the polls suggesting the New Democrats could be facing a huge electoral defeat.
“The polls are the polls. We accept that, but we also know that we’re fundamentally committed to making Manitoba a better place to live,” Selinger said earlier this week.
“We’ve got a tremendous number of things that have been accomplished and those things could be at risk if we take on the policies of the opposition parties.”
Last week, an NDP television ad featured Selinger offering an apology to voters and an admission he and his government “haven’t always gotten it right.”
Time is running out for the premier to turn around his government’s fortunes, said one political analyst.
“I’m wondering what Selinger can do to turn this around, if anything,” said Royce Koop, who teaches political science at the University of Manitoba.
“And as time goes by, I’m thinking it’s getting harder and harder for him to do so.”
The legislature is scheduled to sit until March 15. Under provincial law, the election campaign can begin any time between then and March 22.