Many in the Brandon business community, civic officials, residents and media alike were glued to their computers recently as the NDP government delivered its vision for the province through the speech from the throne, signalling the start of the second sitting of the 40th session of the legislature and one that will prove to be a tumultuous one if indications are correct.
For the record Brandon officially garnered six mentions in this edition, those being the new wellness centre and nursing at Brandon University, the Eastern Access Route, curbside composting, greenhouse work at Assiniboine Community College, Canada Games and the new express Liquor Marts creeping in to various grocery stores in Winnipeg and now in Brandon. The six mentions is a climb from 2011 when Brandon officially came up once during the annual sale of the government to the residents.
One point that was amiss in the speech, once again, was mention of some affordability options for taxation of Manitobans.
Many have long maligned the NDP government for its hard-line approach to the basic personal exemption limit in Manitoba. We currently sit at $8,000 and change before a measure of taxation kicks in, creating some taxation hardships on all levels of the employed and striking deep at workers who earn in low-income brackets.
The point has often been argued whether increasing the basic limit would be beneficial for those on assistance or those operating at a lower income. The thought is that it would put more dollars in their pockets on an ongoing basis and as a result, most of those dollars would be spent supporting local business or trying to earn a living in a community where vacancy numbers, food costs and rent amounts continue to grow.
On paper the idea makes sense and when we compare to neighbours like Saskatchewan, with an exemption limit climbing close to $15,000 and Alberta now more than $17,000, it widens the gap of "haves" and "have nots."
Middle-income earners in Manitobans are the second highest taxed in Canada and low-income earners truly feel the tax pinch while earning well below what would be considered poverty level standards throughout Canada. We have a wealth of natural resource in Manitoba and many talented minds in education, business, science and medicine to draw from, but due to economic constraints and access to prosperity our top export has long been thought to be our people. Furthermore many lower-income earners live in need on a daily basis due to various economic factors like shelter levels, wage, access to education, tax or social pressures.
In the case of Brandon, we see some of that very need the greatest. Access to our soup kitchen is on a steady climb, business locally often struggles while relying on dollars being spent in the community by the community and many in the city are working very diligently from every angle to provide true sustainable and affordable housing options for residents. The need for stimulus opportunity is real and it is a shift that begins with providing more dollars to be spent locally through changes to our taxation system.
Residents are struggling in many communities to make rent payments or even dare to hope for affordable home ownership someday, which opens the question to looking at the exemption limits a little more closely.
The personal exemption works as a tool not only for the lower-income earners as mentioned but provides benefits for all levels up the wage chain which at all levels should stimulate growth in our community and thus the economy.
I love this city, it is such a unique testament to hard work and dedication, entrepreneurial spirit, family values and community togetherness, and focusing an increasingly brighter light on making life affordable in our city is a passion many, including myself, take very seriously.
By making Brandon, and on a larger scale Manitoba, an affordable option to call home benefits us and those who will come after us.
We could be in that coveted "have" province column one day by aligning our values to building community through prosperity and positive social values.
The personal exemption raise is one of those potential prosperity moves, it makes sense for the average Manitoban and it allows us to have a little more of our hard-earned money at the end of each month sitting where it should be, in our pocket.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is now chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city's downtown development corporation. His column appears regularly.