Why does the provincial government bother filing budgets at all?

Today, Manitoba Forward condemned the 2015 budget as “more deceit” in a string of deceit about fiscal and economic policy from the Selinger government. When year after year financial projections are so out of sync with the actual budget – and year end actual spending far exceeds budgeted expenditures – it begs the question, “Why file a budget at all?”

Manitoba Forward Chairman Graham Lane – a former Public Utilities Board Chair – argued that the government hasn’t met commitments in budget announcements so often that today’s budget can’t be taken seriously by Manitobans.

  • The budget papers explicitly use a false economic growth number of 2.4% for 2014, in defiance of Statistics Canada’s conclusion that Manitoba’s economy only grew by 1.1%.
  • With Greg Selinger as Finance Minister and then Premier, Manitoba has consistently blown past its budgeted spending targets since 2001. The total spending forecast for the end of 2014-2015 is already $207m higher than Manitobans were promised a year ago.
  • Greg Selinger and his ministers have lied repeatedly about their deadline for elimination of the deficit, and they’ve extended that deadline twice. “The 2015 budget includes a proposed spending hike at twice the rate of inflation this year – which they wouldn’t do if they really intend to balance the budget in 2018,” Lane said.

These fictions and untruths come on top of the biggest whopper: Selinger’s broken promise not to increase the Provincial Sales Tax. “The budget still hasn’t changed the fact that Manitobans were shortchanged on the promise to invest every new PST dime collected on infrastructure,” Lane said.

With these “untruths” in mind, Manitoba Forward urged reporters to simply refuse to treat the budget as a factual document at all. “No one believes this budget will be delivered as promised, or as printed,” said Executive Director David Shorr, “so it’s time to stop pretending this is a real plan. It’s time for Manitobans to step up and demand better in the absence of honest leadership.”

Vulnerable Lives Matter

The time has come for the NDP government to step up and protect young vulnerable lives in our province. For the past few weeks we have been inundated with horrific headlines about Child and Family Services:

Manitoba teen still in coma after attack; uncle blames child welfare system  (CTV News, April 16)

Social worker registration loophole slammed by Phoenix Sinclair inquiry head (CBC News, April 7)

Winnipeg mom says son under CFS care ‘being left to rot’ (CBC News, March 23) 

Lack of foster spots keep Manitoba kids in jail (The Globe and Mail, April 14)

Four weeks, four entirely different horrific events under the watch of Child and Family Services as reported in the media. When it was reported this week by the Children’s Advocate that young offenders are having to spend more time incarcerated because CFS has not made placements available, this was the response from the Minister’s office:

“Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross declined to be interviewed. Her spokesperson, Rachel Morgan, said in an e-mailed statement that children in custody have “complex needs and require appropriate placements to meet those needs.” (Canadian Press, April 14)

But this week, while the minister was ducking important questions about why a lack of placements was keeping kids in jail cells, she did find time for this cute NDP photo-op:

Let’s contrast that against her response when it was learned that a young girl in CFS’s jurisdiction was brutally assaulted in a downtown parking lot:

“I’m saddened and outraged by this cowardly attack on a vulnerable child,” she said, fighting back tears. “It is infuriating that there are people out there that would prey upon an innocent child.” (The Canadian Press)

One wants really wants to believe that the minister’s tears were genuine and that she truly was “appalled” by what took place. But there’s a gap a mile wide between what the minister says in front of TV cameras and what she does behind closed doors. From a legislative perspective, one of the most shocking revelations was how the Minister Irvin-Ross, Premier Selinger and the NDP brass have been deliberately undermining Ted Hughes findings in the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry.

In his report, Hughes recommended that social workers be required to be regulated through registration with an official professional body like the College of Physicians or the Manitoba Law Society. The Manitoba College of Social Workers was put in place and the NDP had created the auspices of following Ted Hughes recommendations.

Remember, this was an inquiry into the the violent, brutal murder of Phoenix Sinclair, a 5-year-old little girl while under the jurisdiction of Child and Family Services. The prevailing narrative from Premier Selinger, Attorney General Andrew Swan and ministers Irvin-Ross, Howard and Makintosh was that this inquiry was called to honour Phoenix’s legacy and to take every step to make sure that such a tragedy never happened again.

And yet just weeks after the brutal assault of a young girl who was left with little supervision at a downtown hotel – the same downtown hotel  Tina Fontaine went missing from – we learn that the NDP deliberately gamed the system, creating loopholes so the vast majority of social workers employed by CFS remain completely unregulated. In fact, according to the Winnipeg Free Press of the 478 social workers who are directly employed by the province, only 45 of them are actually regulated by the province. So NDP ministers like Kerri Irvin-Ross care enough about the quality of life of little girls like Tina Fontaine and Phoenix Sinclair enough to provide a compelling quote to the newspaper – but not enough to put easy safeguards in place to protect their lives – like regulating social workers.

It’s time for Premier Selinger, Minister Irvin-Ross and the rest of the NDP leadership to step up and show that they care about these kids. For 16 years they have refused to take any meaningful action to keep these kids out of hotels, to stop housing them in jails, to protect them from violence – or murder. This government has failed to honour Phoenix Sinclair legacy and to send the message the lives of vulnerable kids – and all kids – matter.

Because the message from Broadway is loud and clear: Political expediency matters more to the NDP than these young, predominantly Aboriginal lives and this is truly repugnant.

We Need To Talk About Manitoba’s Economy

This week, Manitoba Forward hosted #YoungAmbitionMB with some of the most ambitious, bright young professionals in Manitoba. The response was phenomenal: we had an incredible turn-out because our best and brightest love Manitoba and want to make lay their roots in the community. But the hard reality is, it has become increasingly difficult to justify staying in Manitoba when superior economic opportunities exist virtually everywhere else in Canada.

There have been reports from Statistics Canada and other public policy groups about Manitoba’s economic performance, and none of it has been good. But that hasn’t stopped the NDP from putting a positive spin on the numbers and the media from reporting these distortions.


The Winnipeg Free Press reported today that we’re being hailed as a “rising star” in Canadian job creation. Nobody is “hailing us” as “the new rising star,” unless it’s in Greg Selinger’s last-stand command bunker on Broadway.

All Statistics Canada said was that we had the highest year-over-year growth rate for jobs in Canada, in a single window of comparison. But when you’re growing from a lower threshold, “more growth” only means you’re catching up to the others a little faster. And in an era of $50 barrels of oil and plummeting commodity prices, all that’s happening is commodity provinces are slowing down to our pace. This is not cause for celebration.

First, look at the regional results over the period McNeil mentions: from March 2013 to March 2014, Manitoba created 19,200 jobs. But over the same period, even with the oilpatch under siege and oil prices collapsing, Alberta created 43,500 jobs. So, how are we a “rising star” in that reality, exactly?

Further, the annual trend might have worked out for us for that one block of time. But McNeil didn’t mention the fact that the current trend isn’t in our favour. Last month, Saskatchewan’s increasingly diversified economy produced 7,000 new jobs in a month window where we created only 6,100. Saskatchewan produced hundreds more jobs, even though they have less than 90% of our population.

Finally, we can’t be a “regional rising star” in job creation if our jobs still suck compared to jobs elsewhere in the region.

They’re still bad.

The average Manitoba job still pays:

–          only 89% as much as a Saskatchewan job,

–          only 75% as much as an Alberta job, and

–          only 96% as much as a British Columbia job.

 

So please, everyone, let’s tell the truth about Manitoba’s economy, instead of making it seem like it’s bigger than it really is.

Things could be worse, it’s true. But things could also be much, much better.

Manitoba’s Forgotten Cab Consumer – Why Winnipeg Needs UBER

Why Winnipeg Needs UBER:

FACT: By law, Manitoba’s Taxi Board has artificially limited the number of cabs on the road since the 1950s to protect the income of a cartel of cab owners.

FACT: Since that number has barely budged, the number of cabs available per person has actually dropped over time, from roughly 1 cab per 1,000 people in the 1960s to less than 0.65 cabs per 1,000 Winnipeggers today.*

FACT: Even though we’re colder and we’re more spread out, even though our bus system is “at capacity” according to Winnipeg’s Transit director, Winnipeg has fewer cabs on the road per person than any other major city in Canada except Vancouver* – and there’s no sign that’s going to change any time soon.

FACT: Manitobans know there’s too much drunk driving in this province. In a Statistics Canada survey a few years ago, over 7% of residents admitted they’d driven drunk in the previous year. Cold weather and poor access to cabs isn’t an excuse – but it is an explanation, and we could be doing something about the problem if we allowed for faster, more reliable rideshare services.

FACT: When the rideshare company Uber announced its intention to bring its convenient rideshare service to Winnipeg, the taxi cartel pushed the government to protect them – and the province responded by announcing it would do everything it could to stop Uber from putting consumer needs ahead of the taxi cartel’s needs.

***

This matters now because two cities are in the news for living both sides of the tired debate over cab service. One city is taking Manitoba’s approach, while the other is looking to the future instead.

First, take Calgary. Calgary City Council took the tired old path a few days ago when it announced it would delay the release of 57 new cab licenses, despite increased demand. Note that unlike Winnipeg, Calgary had already boosted the number of licenses by 126 in 2014. In virtually the same news cycle, Calgary officials also cracked down on carshare services, even though these services – like Car2Go, ZipCar and Winnipeg’s own Peg City – have been found to reduce demand for cars on the road, cutting congestion and pollution.

Calgary made the same mistake as Manitoba is making today. The logic Calgary used to justify continuing to artificially limit cab supply was simple: they said a recession might be in the wind, due to low oil prices. So, to fight the recession, they’re using the government’s power to protect high fares and artificially maintain the high market value of a cab license to benefit the cab cartel.

This is backward thinking. If a recession is in the wind, shouldn’t we be trying to offer more access and cheaper service to the silent majority of consumers? What about the men and women without special connections, lobbyists and legislated perks – the people who just want to get a ride without having to wait forty minutes for a driver who insists on being paid in cash? What about the underemployed, the working poor or laid-off workers who’ll be under pressure to drive less, buy fewer cars and find cheaper transportation options? What about those who could ride out the recession by making money driving part-time, if only the market would let them?

Next, take New York – a city where supporting flexibility in transit, cycling, carshare and rideshare services are a matter of public policy. Uber is legal there. And the results are clear: earlier this month, we learned that within a couple of years of launching, Uber cars now outnumber New York’s fleet of Yellow Cabs on New York streets.

But as Slate wrote on learning the news, that isn’t necessarily a threat to cabs, since an Uber-registered car and driver are much more likely to be on the road part-time, picking up excess demand in the system.

Manitoba is economically isolated, we haven’t exploited our natural advantages as effectively as our neighbours, and our industrial strength is weakening in the face of competition from the south and west. In response, Mayor Bowman wants Winnipeg to be “the Silicon Valley of the North” – as though there aren’t a dozen other cities already ahead of us in competition for that honour. Opening up room for the industries of the future, now, while others are still resisting – that’s one path to propel Manitoba Forward and grab that title. Being more open to innovative companies like Uber could also help us to solve specific policy problems – like our unconscionably high provincial drunk driving rate.

But neither result is coming to Manitoba any time soon, as long as our governments consistently put the needs of politically connected cartels first, while they put the needs of Manitoba consumers last.

* See “We Have Been Here Before: Supply Management in Transportation,” Conference Board of Canada, 2013.

 

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