Manitoba government focusing on economy, finances in throne speech

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Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government will focus on the economy and provincial coffers in a throne speech today that will outline the province's agenda for the coming year.

Premier Brian Pallister has said the throne speech will have three prongs: chipping away at the provincial deficit, boosting the economy and preserving front-line services.

One of the first items to be on the agenda is a new balanced-budget law to replace one Pallister scrapped in the spring. The former law forced pay cuts on cabinet ministers whenever the government ran a deficit _ something Palllister has said ``may or may not be'' part of the new law.

The legislation also is expected to restore the right of citizens to vote on major tax increases. The former NDP government sidestepped that requirement when it raised the provincial sales tax in 2013 by changing the law. The Tories took the matter to court, but a judge sided with the New Democrats and said governments are free to change laws if there are no constitutional or charter violations.

Opinion polls suggest Pallister continues to be popular among voters seven months after winning a modern-day Manitoba record 40 of 57 legislature seats. The opposition New Democrats and Liberals both saw their leaders step down after the election, and are months away from choosing permanent replacements.

That opposition disrray, and Pallister's relatively gaffe-free performance so far, puts the Tories in a good spot, says one political analyst.

"People are still comfortable with the new government. No major blunders of any kind ... and they've postponed some of the tougher choices they'll have to make,'' said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

Pallister has given himself eight years to wipe out the deficit, which stood at $846 million last year. He has also promised to cut the provincial sales tax to seven per cent from eight before the end of his first mandate.

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