'Significant challenges ahead': How Manitoba's finances have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic
WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba government is expecting the COVID-19 pandemic to continue to have an impact on the province's finances, even if a vaccine is approved next year.
Premier Brian Pallister and Finance Minister Scott Fielding presented the province's fiscal update Tuesday afternoon at the Manitoba Legislative Building, which revealed the province is projecting a deficit of $2.9 billion for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
This is up from the $220 million deficit that was projected in the 2020 budget before the pandemic was declared near the end of the 2019-20 fiscal year. This prompted the province to release the fiscal update.
"Now with COVID-19, we're facing significant challenges ahead," Fielding said. "Our priority is to make investments to keep Manitobans safe and to safely restart our economy to make sure people are employed."
Manitoba expects its expenses to be over $1.2 billion, noting the additional spending from the province during the pandemic, including the Restart Manitoba program. The province is also forecasting revenue will be $1.5 billion lower than expected, with the shutdown at the start of the pandemic to blame.
The forecast also expects it will take several years for the province to address the financial impact of the pandemic.
"COVID has handed us new challenges, even greater ones perhaps than before," Pallister said. "But Manitobans are determined, Manitobans are resilient, and we are Manitobans, and we will prevail and we will thrive."
THE 2019-20 FISCAL YEAR REPORT
During the fiscal update, the province also presented its 2019-20 year-end financial results, reporting a $5 million surplus for the year.
The government was originally projecting a $360 million deficit for the year. According to a news release, the government is crediting tax decreases and spending controls for the surplus.
"This is Manitoba's first surplus since 2009," Fielding said.
Pallister said the surplus is important for the government as it continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We've done this just in time to face even greater challenges," he said.
Fielding said the province's rainy day fund is currently at over $800 million, and the province has not used it since the pandemic started.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he remains concerned about the cuts the provincial government has made to help balance the budget.
"This government has cut healthcare, they have cut education over the years," he said. "They can hold their press conference today, but my question would be: at what cost?
"If there is so much money that Mr. Pallister and Mr. Fielding want to brag about, why can't they reduce the wait times for a COVID test right now? Why can't they hire more people to take the swabs or do the contact tracing?"