Manitoba’s Opposition says education property tax rebates should only go to homeowners and farmers — not the owners of commercial properties.
NDP finance critic Mark Wasyliw said his party wants to amend a bill before the legislature to remove the 10 per cent rebate for the owners of other types of properties that are not residential or farm property, such as commercial.
It comes after CBC News reported the largest recipient of the new education tax rebate are the owners of the Polo Park shopping centre, Cadillac Fairview, which received a cheque totalling more than $1 million.
In subsequent days, the NDP slammed the payout, saying the cash would be better spent on the province’s education system.
On Tuesday, Wasyliw told reporters that nobody in the business community asked for this rebate.
“You didn’t see Cadillac Fairview come to the legislature, knock on the door of the premier’s office and say, ‘We’re a $20-billion company and we’re feeling a little light this day — we need your help,’ he said.
“This is just incredibly ideological on the part of the government.”
He argued the education tax rebate, which first took effect in 2021, lines the pockets of rich owners more so than the low-income Manitobans the government said its tax cut was meant to help.
Wasyliw said it’s not a program helping small businesses trying to get by.
“If you are a small business that owns your property you’re in a very different position than if you were a small business who is renting your property,” he said, saying the rebate is helping many national and multinational companies.
A CBC analysis of Winnipeg properties shows the top 10 per cent of education tax rebate recipients pocketed four times more cash than the bottom 10 per cent.
Commercial properties received a 10 per cent rebate last year and are supposed to get the same percentage this year, though the NDP wants that rebate eliminated.
Some of the other properties reaping the most cash include St. Vital Centre, True North Square and the three skyscrapers at Portage and Main.
Meanwhile, the rebate for homeowners and farm property owners is slated to climb from a 25 per cent rebate last year to 37.5 per cent this year.
The province is planning to eventually phase out education property taxes in favour of a new way to finance schools, which the government says will be fairer.
Wasyliw isn’t convinced the government has it right.
“When you look at it right now, our hospitals are collapsing and we have to borrow money for a tax cut,” he said.
“We’ve done better in Manitoba. We need to get back there. And we do that by managing the finances responsibly in this province and not taking out loans to send to large corporate landlords in Toronto.”
Tenants also pocket cash: government
Earlier in the day, Wasyliw went after the government in question period for giving higher-priced property owners — particularly, Cadillac Fairview — a larger chunk of the cash.
Former finance minister Scott Fielding came prepared with a list of CF Polo Park tenants he said would take advantage of the rebate, including Fergies Fish ‘n Chips, with Fielding saying, “they don’t sound like an international player.”
“Not only businesses will benefit, Madame Speaker, over 400,000 individuals will get an education property tax (cut) to make life more affordable,” Fielding said.
The minister quoted a Winnipeg Free Press letter that said any rebate on property taxes must be provided to the tenant.
The owner of Fergies said he expects to benefit.
Gus Tsouras said all tenants pay a proportional share of the mall’s expenses. He said he gets to see that accounting every year and he anticipates that tax relief will trickle down.
“I’d like to think the tenants will see that,” Tsouras said. “The mall has always been good to us.”
Commercial property owners are not the only ones who got the 10 per cent rebate cheque. It also includes what the government lists as “other properties”: commercial, industrial, railway, institutional, pipelines and designated recreational.
Wasyliw said the NDP would propose its amendment in the coming days to remove the “other properties” rebate to the appropriation bill the government is trying to pass. The Tories have argued it needs legislation before rebate cheques can be put in the mail, but the opposition parties say the government doesn’t need it.
The PCs didn’t respond to a request for comment on the NDP’s proposal by the late afternoon Tuesday.
A government briefing note obtained by the NDP through a freedom of information request shows $40 million was rebated to the owners of other properties, including commercial.