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Manitoba NDP releases full platform with potential balanced budget, COVID-19 inquiry


Manitoba New Democrats laid out more details Thursday of their campaign promises to boost spending on health care, reduce class sizes, return to a balanced budget and hold an inquiry into how the Progressive Conservative government handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

The party, which has been on the Opposition benches for the last seven years but is leading in opinion polls, released its full platform five days ahead of Tuesday's election.

The document includes new spending on health care starting at $220 million a year and rising. About half of that is to fulfil promises to hire more doctors, nurses and other health-care workers.

More than $70 million is to be set aside to reduce class sizes, expand $10-a-day child care and set up a school nutrition program.

In total, the platform promises new spending and tax cuts, including a previously announced temporary suspension of the provincial fuel tax, totalling $582 million in the first year.

"Our team is committed to bringing the provincial books back into balance while investing in health care and helping your family," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

To pay for the promises, the NDP plan relies mostly on money set aside in the provincial budget for unanticipated events. There was $521 million set aside in the budget delivered by the Progressive Conservative government in the spring.

When asked about the risk of reducing the province's financial cushion -- which is roughly two per cent of the total budget -- Kinew said the Tories have not had to use all of it in previous years.

"We're saying it's more transparent and it's better governance if we just lay out right now that we're going to use that for health care, and this amount for education, and that amount for social services."

The government has other cushions, Kinew added, including $200 million set aside in the budget for any unexpected revenue shortfalls.

The platform does not fully spell out some of the party's big-ticket, long-term capital promises, such as the construction of three hospital emergency departments that is set to start years from now, or the final phase of a revamped sewage treatment plant in Winnipeg that has run over budget.

By 2027, the platform states, Manitoba would be in a position to post a $1-million surplus. Manitoba has been running deficits ever since 2009, with the exception of a $5-million surplus in 2019.

The Progressive Conservatives said the NDP platform underestimates the cost of the party's promises, which the Tories say would total $3.3 billion over several years.

"Not only are the NDP severely underestimating actual costs, they are outright misleading Manitobans," Tory Shannon Martin, who is not seeking re-election, said in a prepared statement.

In the platform, Kinew also reiterates a promise to hold an inquiry into the province's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospitals were at times overwhelmed and dozens of patients were flown to other provinces due to a shortage of beds.

The platform sets aside $1.6 million over four years for an inquiry -- a much smaller sum than the $14 million spent on Manitoba's last major inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair after failures in the child welfare system.

Kinew said the details of what a COVID-19 inquiry might look like have yet to be worked out.

While Kinew remained the focus of the NDP's campaign, Progressive Conservative Leader Heather Stefanson was again not hosting any media events Thursday. She has not held a press conference this week.

Instead, Tory cabinet minister Andrew Smith promised $8.8 million over four years to add new transit routes in underserved parts of Winnipeg.

"Expanding new transit lines into fast-growing, underserviced areas on the outskirts of Winnipeg will encourage more people to use transit (and) to help grow our population," Smith said.

Stefanson's constituency office was vandalized earlier this week by a small group protesting her decision to not search the Prairie Green Landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women.

Stefanson has cited health and safety concerns from asbestos and other materials, and the Tories recently took out advertisements highlighting their firm stance against a "dig."

A group of protesters on Wednesday re-established a blockade of the Brady Road landfill in southern Winnipeg to demand a search go ahead. The protest had been dismantled in the summer following a court injunction.

Kinew, who has promised to have the Prairie Green Landfill searched if elected, said he felt a blockade is not needed.

"I personally don't believe that there needs to be a blockade, because you have in your hands a tool that is more powerful than any blockade and more powerful than any protest, and that is your ballot," Kinew said.

   This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2023.

   -- With files from Brittany Hobson Top Stories

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