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Manitoba’s public debt rising faster than expected

Moody's Investor Services warned that continued provincial deficits could result in a credit downgrade

WINNIPEG—The Manitoba government has received another warning about its rising debt.

The province’s continuing inability to meet its balanced-budget targets could harm its credit rating, Moody’s Investor Services said in a recent analysis released June 5 by the Opposition Progressive Conservatives.

“Prolonged deficits and high-capital spending will likely result in a continued gradual increase of Manitoba’s debt burden until at least 2017-18, adding additional pressure on its current Aa1 rating with a negative outlook,” the bond-rating agency said.

“A loss of fiscal discipline leading to a continued and sustained increase in debt and debt-service ratios … could result in a deterioration of its current credit profile.”

A credit-rating downgrade can lead to higher interest payments on provincial debt, which leaves less money for government services.

Manitoba has been running deficits since 2010 and Moody’s first warned of a possible credit downgrade last fall. Since then, the government has pushed back its plan to balance the budget by two years, to 2019.

Moody’s also said the provincial debt is rising more quickly than expected—jumping from 100 per cent of the province’s annual revenues in 2009 to a predicted 150 per cent by next year.

Opposition Leader Brian Pallister said the government has failed to control its spending.

“They put out a budget (in April) which has a 20 per cent higher deficit projection than last year.”

Premier Greg Selinger said the debt is still manageable and the province’s credit rating is better than it was under the previous Tory government.

He said his NDP government has taken a balanced approach by spending money on infrastructure and keeping the economy strong.

“We’ve got very good results from that. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, one of the best job-creation rates in the country.”

The province’s finances are shaping up to be a key issue for the provincial election slated for next April. The New Democrats raised the provincial sales tax in 2013 despite an earlier promise that they wouldn’t, and said they would use the money for infrastructure projects and job creation.

Selinger has accused the Tories of having an agenda that would cut government services and hurt the economy. Pallister has responded that the NDP’s high debt and tax increases already have hurt the economy.

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