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Manitoba Tory leader promises end to bracket creep in speech to party faithful

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Opposition Leader Brian Pallister promised Tuesday to end so-called bracket creep if he wins the next election.

The pledge was part of a speech to party faithful in which the Progressive Conservative leader offered his most detailed platform to date.

"We've got to leave money in the hands of working families trying to save up money for a down payment on a new house. We've got to leave more money in the hands of seniors ... and encourage them to have a more secure future," Pallister told more than 100 Tories at a Winnipeg hotel.

Manitoba is one of the few provinces that does not raise its tax brackets automatically every year to match the rate of inflation. As a result, people who get raises that simply match the cost of living can, over time, find themselves bumped into a higher tax bracket.

Manitoba's top tax rate of 17.4 per cent kicks in at $67,000, according to the Canada Revenue Agency's website. In Saskatchewan, the top tax rate of 15 per cent starts at $123,692.

The next election is slated for April 2016, but the Tories have started nominating candidates and putting together a platform in case Premier Greg Selinger calls an early vote.

Pallister has already promised other tax relief including:

— Reversing the NDP government's sales tax increase last year.

— Raising the basic personal exemption for income taxes.

— Increasing the housing allowance for people on social assistance.

Pallister said Tuesday if he becomes premier, the social assistance increase will be immediate and his other promises will be fulfilled sometime during his first term. The exact timing would depend on the state of the province's books, which have taken a hit from deficit budgets that started in 2009, he said.

"We've got to figure out how deep the hole is and ... the way to do that is a complete expenditure review, a value-for-money audit."

Pallister stressed that his promises would be kept regardless of the audit's outcome, but how soon they could be implemented within a first mandate would depend on the results.

The NDP has accused Pallister of planning deep spending cuts to front-line services and public-sector jobs, but Pallister said almost a third of civil servants are nearing retirement age and any reductions could be made through attrition.

He was asked by one party member whether he would deregulate liquor sales, which are controlled by a Crown corporation. Pallister said that was not his position, but invited the woman who asked the question to submit her thoughts via an online survey the Tories have launched.

"I'm not closed-minded, but it is not on my agenda, nor is privatizing (Manitoba) Hydro, nor is privatizing MPI (Manitoba Public Insurance), by the way," Pallister told the woman.

"Participate in the policy blueprint process. Venture in ... we want input."

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