Manitoba opposition parties say budget could lead to snap election

WINNIPEG — It’s budget day in Manitoba, and many political observers are watching to see whether there will be a long-promised tax cut that would lead to an early election.

The Progressive Conservative government vowed in the last election campaign to cut the provincial sales tax to seven per cent from eight per cent before the end of its first term.

The next election is slated for Oct. 6, 2020, but Premier Brian Pallister has not ruled out calling an earlier vote.

Opposition Leader Wab Kinew says if the sales tax cut comes today, an election will very likely be called early.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont has said he expects an election could come as early as this spring.

The governing Tories continue to lead in opinion polls and fundraising, but Kinew says his party will be ready if an election is called in the coming weeks or months.

“We’ve gamed out a few different scenarios, including a snap election … so we will be prepared to run an election very soon,” Kinew said.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding would not reveal whether the tax cut will occur in this budget or a later one, when asked by reporters at an event Tuesday.

“We’re absolutely committed to reducing the (sales tax) in our first term of office. So you’re going to see us move on that … by the end of our first term of office,” he said.

When asked when that term will end and an election will be called, Fielding replied, “That’s above my pay grade.”

The sales tax cut was one of two major promises in the Tory election campaign of 2016. They have also vowed to tackle a string of deficits started by the former NDP government and to balance the budget by 2024.

The Tories have kept a tight lid on spending and chipped away at the deficit by freezing public-sector wages, limiting growth in health funding, raising public-housing rental rates and more.

The opposition parties have denounced the moves and anticipate more tough medicine with the deficit still hovering around the $500-million mark.

“We’re seeing the impact of this government’s … cuts in the cancellations of surgeries, in the nurses who are working overtime, and in the increasing wait times at emergency rooms,” Kinew said.

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