A plan for Manitoba Public Insurance to help pay for road and street repairs angered critics, who called the plan a back-handed government tax grab.
“(The NDP government) has gone looking around for other sources of funds and suggested MPI could fund the roads and that is not MPI’s role,” said Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer, the party’s critic on MPI.
“They are an insurer for Manitobans. They are not a funder of infrastructure. That’s the government’s role to provide safe and solid infrastructure for Manitobans.”
Sally Housser, a spokeswoman for Andrew Swan, the minister responsible for MPI, said if the plan moves forward MPI would supply a minority of the total costs for road improvements.
“Our affordability legislation ensures that Manitobans will have the lowest bundle of utilities including Hydro, natural gas and Autopac,” Housser said.
“MPI has a mandate to improve road safety and keep claims costs low for ratepayers. We understand MPI is looking at infrastructure investments where it will have a financial payback through lower claims costs.”
The public auto insurer had resisted previous requests to put money directly into roads, though the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia has done similar work.
However, the NDP government supported a 2001 attempt to funnel $20 million in surplus MPI funds into post-secondary education.
That was later rejected by the public and the Public Utilities Board ordered the Crown corporation to rebate surplus funds to the people who paid vehicle premiums.
“The government obviously has an infrastructure problem and a big infrastructure deficit that they have been trying to find a way to deal with,” Helwer said.
“They talked about raising the provincial sales tax and there was brush back from the public on that one.”
A Progressive Conservative caucus press release noted that an increase in vehicle registration fees as well as increases to the gas tax rate have put an additional $72 million into the government’s pockets.