Premier Brian Pallister won’t commit to following the direction of Manitobans who respond to a government survey that aims to gauge the public’s appetite for a proposed health-care premium.
Pallister defended his government’s use of the online survey — and the proposed tax — at a press conference Thursday amid criticism from both the left and the right over the proposed premium on health-care.
While the online survey asks respondents to decide between three options — current health care services with a lower premium, enhanced health care with a higher premium, or reduced health care with no premium — Pallister denied the survey really just asks Manitobans to decide between the tax or cuts to the province’s health-care services.
“It’s designed to elicit a response and have participants. It is not designed to lead the witness,” he said. “I think it’s a good opportunity for people to participate.”
The premier said a comments section included at the bottom of the survey would give respondents a chance to voice support for options other than cuts to the system or a new tax, and told reporters he will personally review the responses recorded in the comment field.
“I look forward to reading them, I read all 10,000 plus submissions last year to that fiscal committee,” he said. “I’m very interested — I like to hear from Manitobans.”
But when asked whether or not his government would reduce health care services if the majority of respondents reject the idea of either a lower or higher premium, Pallister was adamant cuts to Manitoba’s health-care system are not on the table.
That’s what a conversation is about
– Premier Brian Pallister
That led reporters in the room to question why the government would bother with the survey in the first place, if the views of the majority wouldn’t necessarily be followed once results are tallied.
Pallister said the survey provides a space for Manitobans to have a say about policy, but wouldn’t commit to following the results.
“We’ll decide when we look at the responses, and we’ll make our policies,” he said. “That’s what a conversation is about.”
Unexpected announcement made Wednesday
The proposed plan to charge a premium on health-care services in Manitoba was first announced by Pallister Wednesday.
At the unexpected announcement Pallister said health-care premiums could help Manitoba maintain its level of care in the wake of changes to the rate at which federal health transfers will go up over the next several years.
Last year, Ottawa announced the Canada Health Transfer would increase by three per cent, down from the six per cent increases the provinces had been receiving.
The deal will see Manitoba get three per cent annual increases to the Canada Health Transfer and $399.6 million over 10 years for mental-health and home-care services.
Although he said the premium would be based on income, Pallister did not say how much Manitobans could be paying if the plan goes ahead.
Health-care premiums already exist in other provinces like British Columbia and Ontario.
The proposition has been met with criticism on both sides of the political spectrum.
Loren Remillard, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said based on the B.C. model — where he says health-care premiums generate 13 per cent of the province’s health care budget — the tax could mean an extra $900 per year for adults in Manitoba and $1,800 for a family with two adults and children.
“So ultimately if you take the B.C. model and apply it to Manitoba, Manitobans could be looking at a six per cent PST equivalent increase,” explained Remillard. “That’s a huge cost to taxpayers at a time when government seems intent to find more and more ways to separate taxpayers from their wallets.
“We’re really hoping that Manitobans say no, and really encourage the province to really sharpen their pencils and really find some innovative way deliver health care.”
Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Michelle Gawronsky suggested the government should tax corporations at a higher rate rather than asking individual Manitobans to pony up.
Christopher Adams, a political scientist based at St. Paul’s College, questioned how serious the Tories are about the health-care tax, suggesting the governing party might be using the proposition as way of convincing Manitobans just how dire a situation the government is facing in overhauling the province’s health-care system.
“They’re getting a lot of blowback from the closing of some of the emergency wards and the urgent care offerings in the hospitals,” he said. “And I think they might be thinking that Winnipeggers and Manitobans don’t think it’s severe enough to be making drastic changes.”