Manitoba ranks third on the list of provinces directing funding to combat COVID-19 at 3.3 per cent of its GDP, but across the country, the federal government is largely funding the effort, according to a new report.
That publication, Still Picking Up the Tab, by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, shows the provinces have boosted their share of COVID-19 spending from 8 per cent to 14 per cent since January, totalling $57 billion.
The federal government meanwhile, had earmarked $366 billion as of the spring budget.
In terms of GDP spending, Manitoba was outranked by B.C. at 3.5 per cent and Quebec at 3.4 per cent.
The report’s authors say the equivalent of $10,930 per person has been spent on “direct measures” to combat COVID-19 in Manitoba, 16 per cent of which was provincially funded.
The largest support category was for businesses, amounting to $4,160 per person, ahead of support for individuals at $3,510, and health-care spending at $2,100.
Federal dollars made up the majority of those funds, however, in the areas of schools and child care, as well as infrastructure, the province picked up most of the bill.
Manitoba was responsible for two-thirds of the support for schools and child care centres, which is “a rare instance in this category in which provincial contributions exceeded federal contributions,” the authors write.
“Of the federal Safe Restart fund, $39.5 million was retained in a safe restart fund that schools needed to apply for,” the report reads.
“It’s unclear how much of that fund was ultimately distributed.”
The authors also note Manitoba’s “poor disclosure” for detailing exactly where its COVID-19 money is going to be spent.
“The disclosure for the 2020-21 year was quite good, with reasonably detailed listings of program costs and departmental breakdowns,” the report reads.
“In 2021-22, there is a significant $1.18 billion ‘enabling appropriation’ for COVID-19 expenditures. There are several broad categories of health care, schools supports, capital transfers and job creation, but very few details within those broad categories.
“In the end, over a billion of the $1.18-billion contingency fund was allocated, with few details.”
Compared to the previous report in January, Saskatchewan replaced Alberta for the largest amount of unspent money from the federal essential worker wage top-up program, whereby, generally, the province paid one-quarter of the cost and the feds picked up the rest.
As of the spring 2021 budget, the authors say Saskatchewan was leaving about $49 billion of federal money on the table, dwarfing Manitoba’s $10.5 million in unallocated funds.
The report concludes by saying the cost estimates associated with fighting COVID-19 appear to be stabilizing.
“But make no mistake: the $354 billion federal deficit incurred in 2020-21 would have otherwise been a provincial, household or business deficit, given how much support these sectors received from the federal government,” the authors write.
“This is the role that the federal government can and should play in Canada. It has access to lower interest rates, it was carrying lower debt than the provinces as Canada entered the crisis, and it has a direct line to the Bank of Canada to manage such a deficit.”