Manitoba finance minister says fuel tax holiday will be set to start Jan. 1

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is looking to start a fuel-tax holiday for motorists on Jan. 1 and keep it in place for at least six months.

The NDP promised a temporary suspension of the province's 14-cent-a-litre fuel tax as part of its winning campaign for the Oct. 3 election.

Finance Minister Adrien Sala said the government plans to bring in a bill soon, in order for the tax break to start on New Year's Day.

"Our first priority here is to bring in the legislation which will ultimately target bringing in that fuel tax holiday for Jan. 1," Sala said in an interview Tuesday.

The tax cut is to remain in place until inflation subsides, although the government has not yet determined how low inflation would have to fall before reinstating the tax. The tax holiday would last at least six months, Sala said, and could be extended depending on economic circumstances.

Fuel taxes currently bring in roughly $340 million a year to provincial coffers.

The fuel tax is just one of a few tax measures Sala has been assigned in a mandate letter from Premier Wab Kinew this week.

Sala has been tasked with working to "maintain" a 50 per cent reduction to education property taxes the former Progressive Conservative government had enacted. But Sala is not promising to phase out the tax completely over several years as the Tories had pledged.

"At this point, we're committed to making sure Manitobans get those savings, and that we're going to maintain that 50 per cent education property tax rate. We're not entertaining looking at that or changing that at this point."

The Tories, now in Opposition, accused the NDP of breaking an affordability promise.

"They (said) they were going to do everything and anything to help Manitobans with the affordability crisis that we have right now," Tory finance critic Obby Khan said.

The government is also looking at offering the property tax rebates upfront by reducing people's local property tax bills, rather than issuing rebate cheques after the fact as the Tories did. Details on how that will be done, in partnership with local governments, have yet to be worked out.

Another promise Sala is tasked with is stopping "out-of-province billionaires" from receiving the education property tax rebate cheques, his mandate letter says. The NDP criticized the Tories for including rich corporations such as grocery giant Loblaws in its rebate system.

"We're still relatively early days in figuring out exactly how this is going to look," Sala said.

Several other cabinet ministers received their mandate letters from the premier this week.

Bernadette Smith, minister of housing, addictions and homelessness, is tasked with expanding housing and addiction programs, as well as establishing a supervised drug consumption site in downtown Winnipeg.

Matt Wiebe, minister of justice, has duties that include bringing in stronger measures on bail reform and ensuring municipal law enforcement is properly funded.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 31, 2023

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press