Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the province has little choice but to use up its rainy day fund during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and he is asking the federal government to help the province borrow money.
“Let’s talk about some things that need to be talked about,” he said, adding that he wasn’t going to mince words.
“Our revenue is down. Not a little — a lot. Way down.”
The rainy day fund will likely be depleted within three months, he said.
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“Should the situation deteriorate further or faster? That savings fund will be used up even sooner,” he said.
“Now, should that happen, we and virtually every other Canadian province will need to borrow more money to protect our health care system. There is no choice.”
Pallister said he is calling on the federal government to establish an emergency credit fund in order for provinces to borrow money at a lower interest rate.
The federal government’s credit rating means it can borrow at a lower rate than the provinces. This would save Canadians billions of dollars annually that could be better spent supporting health care and the most vulnerable Canadians, said Pallister.
“The issue isn’t asking the federal government to give us money,” said Pallister. “It’s asking them to let us borrow at their interest rate” to fund health care.
“This is about smarter borrowing,” he said.
The provincial debt is expected to go up by at least $5 billion because of the pandemic, said Pallister, adding: “At the very best, we have about three months of cushion.”
The rainy day fund was to be topped up to $800 million this year.
The idea has been brought forward to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Pallister, who added that no other premiers have suggested this and that he will be bringing it up with other premiers in a phone call later Thursday.
“Canadians expect us to work together as governments, and that’s what we’ve been doing,” he said, adding that the idea could save provincial governments billions across the country.
Pallister also said the provincial sales tax (PST) in Manitoba will not be decreased this year as previously announced.
“The PST decrease won’t happen this year. It’s extremely doubtful we’d have all-party agreement to proceed with that anyway,” he said.
“Having that PST money would give us about four days of extra latitude on a rainy day cushion.”
As of Thursday, Manitoba’s COVID-19 cases stand at 36. One additional case was discovered on Thursday, and one person remains in hospital.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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