Voters should remember rebates aren’t exactly free
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Manitoba families began receiving “family affordability” cheques in the mail this week from Premier Heather Stefanson’s government, part of the province’s $63.6-million benefit payment program that was promised by the Tories as a means to help citizens fight rising inflation.
Under the plan, every Manitoba family with a household net income of under $175,000 in 2021, and who have kids under the age of 18 will receive a $250 cheque for the first child, and $200 for each additional child under 18.
Of course, this isn’t the only cash-back program the Stefanson government has undertaken over the last several months. In January, the premier announced a $200-million “carbon tax relief fund” that would cut cheques for about 700,000 Manitobans — $225 for single individuals and $375 for couples, with the lower income earner receiving the payment.
Those cheques were most certainly a political move by a premier who was trying to score political points off the federal Liberal government’s unpopular carbon tax. As the CBC reported at the time, Stefanson insisted the federal program has been a net financial burden for most Manitobans, even as other pressures — including global supply demands, the Ukraine war and government spending — have forced record-high inflation over the past year.
“We now know this is taking more money than what they’re giving back, and that is not helping when people are struggling to make ends meet,” Stefanson told media. “We’re going to give some money back in the way of the carbon tax relief. If the federal government isn’t going to do it and Justin Trudeau is not going to do it, we’re doing it.”
The premier’s comments, however, did not reflect that the federal government has been sending out carbon tax rebate cheques to families in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan since 2022.
There is also the now-annual slew of school tax rebate cheques sent out to residential and farm property owners here in Manitoba.
There are, of course, easier and less costly measures available to government when it comes to putting more money in the pockets of ordinary citizens. To their credit, the Stefanson government did commit to one of them when it announced changes to the basic personal amount and tax bracket thresholds in the 2023 Manitoba budget this week.
While this change means Manitobans will not pay taxes on the first $15,000 they make, which is an increase from the current exemption of more than $10,000, it’s a less tangible sign of the government’s decision to take less of their cash compared to a cheque in the hand.
Manitoba is hardly the only province using this practice, either.
Last fall, the Saskatchewan government handed out one-time payments of $500 to about 900,000 residents under its Affordability Tax Credit program. British Columbia announced a family benefits payment to families with children under 18 who have low to moderate incomes, with the maximum credit up to $350 between January and March for a family with two children.
And Alberta, too, introduced its own form of affordability payments earlier this year, with eligible Albertans being asked to apply to receive monthly payments of $100.
It’s noteworthy that both Manitoba and Alberta will be going to the polls this year in a general election, with Alberta’s slated for May and Manitoba’s in October. Both Saskatchewan and B.C. will hold elections in October 2024.
And while it’s true that Canadians of all stripes have been hit hard with inflation over the past year, cheques in the mail are a useful political advertising tool for governments, which likely explains why the practice has become so popular.
Our politicians may argue that we’re being too cynical in suggesting such an ulterior motive, but all voters need to be reminded that none of this money was ever free to begin with.