Manitoba net debt rises by $2 billion
Crews clean off the snow from the steps of the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg on Jan. 28, 2011. (Marcel Cretain, Winnipeg Sun files)
Manitoba’s net debt rose almost $2 billion over the past year, leaving taxpayers potentially on the hook for some hefty loans, critics say.
Provincial Progressive Conservatives say the figure, which includes a $999-million deficit and capital costs, could be too great a cost for Manitobans to bear.
“The biggest concern is with the deficit, when you combine it with the debt, we’re just putting Manitobans on the hook for a debt that is possibly unsustainable,” said Reg Helwer, the Tory’s acting finance critic.
Helwer said the net debt includes Manitoba Hydro and the new Winnipeg Blue Bombers football stadium now under construction, plus health-care and pension liabilities and other costs. The province is currently covering $160 million of the $190-million stadium, which is expected to be paid out eventually by the Winnipeg Football Club and taxes from a development at the current stadium site.
The guaranteed loan is on top of a provincial grant of $22.5 million.
“We’re paying the interest on this after Manitoba guaranteed the loan. Taxpayers are on the hook for these (loans), should they not be paid,” said Helwer.
Colin Craig, the prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said it’s not unheard of to have the deficit be just a fraction of a province’s annual net debt increase.
But the total amount itself is a concern, Craig said.
“It’s a concern that net debt is going up so much, it’s higher than what you see in other provinces,” he said.
About a year ago, Craig said Manitoba’s net debt was rising about $50 a second. The figure hit $14.5 billion by April 1, out of a total debt that stood at about $27.7 billion this spring, said Craig.
The province did not grant an interview request but issued an e-mail response.
“The only way to avoid booking an increase in the net debt is to stop investing in capital projects like schools, roads and hospitals. The consolidated financial statements and changes in net debt were independently reviewed and approved by the auditor,” stated the e-mail.