How Much Do You Need to Work to Earn This NDP Staffer’s Salary?

After only being employed for two and a half years as Greg Selinger’s chief of staff, it was reported that Liam Martin made approximately $284,000 for 11 months of work in 2014. 100% of this money came from your tax-dollars. To find out how much you’d need to work to make Liam Martin’s salary – paid by you – we took a look at the earnings of regular Manitobans.

How much do you need to work to earn Liam Martin’s salary?

1. Tim Horton’s Employee

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Earning minimum wage, pouring coffee for 60 hours a week it would take a Tim Hortons employee 8 years to earn what Greg Selinger’s former chief of staff Liam Martin did in 11 months.

2. Winnipeg Transit Driver

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Based on the median earnings for Winnipeg Transit operators, it would take most bus drivers 6 years to earn what Liam Martin earned for 11 months of work.

3. Manitoba Nurse

Working 40 hours and saving lives every day, it would take a nurse just over 3 years to earn what Liam Martin earned for 11 months of work.

4. Winnipeg Police Service Detective

Putting him or herself in danger every day solving gritty crimes on the streets of Winnipeg, Manitobans will be comforted in knowing that including overtime, it would take a homicide detective two and a half years to earn what Liam Martin earned for 11 months work in 2014.

So now we know about how much regular Manitobans would have had to work to keep up with the Martins, but what about other public figures?

1. Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman

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Bowman is expected to earn approximately $110,000 less in 2015 than Greg Selinger’s former chief of staff did for only 11 months of work in 2014.

2. Manitoba Minister of Finance Greg Dewar

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If his calculations are right, (and they’re probably not), Minister Dewar will earn $170,000 less in 2015 than the former NDP staffer did for 11 months work in 2014

3. Dave Gaudreau

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If there’s a silver lining to all this, its that after the next election, Liam Martin would have earned marginally less for 11 months of work than our favorite male friend  in his only term in office.

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Liquor and Lotteries Headquarters – A $74 Million Bet

Greg Selinger’s Liquor and Lotteries monopoly have announced plans to spend $74 million of your money to buy, renovate and expand the Medical Arts Building for Liquor and Lotteries’ headquarters and administrative offices.

In touting the reason for this decision the Premier said at a press conference: “More people, more activity, more vibrancy, more excitement, with a redefined purpose as the Sports and Hospitality District — that’s exactly what we want, and I think this facility and this investment will be a part of that story.”

Manitoba Forward believes that it is not MLL’s job to “revitalize downtown”. MLL’s mandate is to manage and regulate the sales of liquor and the operation of gaming, not to bolster downtown growth. Furthermore, portions of the profits generated from these efforts should go toward addictions treatment and pay dividends to the Province to be spent on debt reduction and spending on services like healthcare, education and roads.

While MLF may be able to make a case for borrowing money or investing some profits for the extension of its casinos or the upgrading VLTs for hotels, the Jet’s Shark Room and Assiniboine  Downs, unnecessary spending on Liquor and Lotteries headquarters and administrative offices is another matter.

Let’s examine the business case of the NDP’s redevelopment plans for the Medical Arts Building to relocate MLL’s headquarters:

  •   Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries own and lease the offices they operate in across Winnipeg. While not an ideal situation, they’ve been functional since the merger 3 years ago
  • The owners of Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries – Manitoba taxpayers – will paying an initially projected cost of $74 million to purchase, refurbish and expand the Medical Arts Building in downtown Winnipeg
  • Both the City of Winnipeg and The Province of Manitoba have a long track record of gross mismanagement in real estate development, including Investors Group Field, the Manitoba Hydro Headquarters and the Winnipeg Police Headquarters. Each of these projects have had overruns of $20 million or more. The initial forecast for Hydro’s new headquarters was $75 million; it actually came in at $283 million.
  • According to sources in the development community familiar with the Medical Arts Building – the property currently generates approximately $900,000 in annual net operating income, based on an average rental rate of approximately $11 per square foot. Assuming very conservative overruns of only $5 million and under the very unlikely assumption that the redeveloped site has 0% vacancy; it would take MLL almost 90 years to break even on this venture

The merger of the MLCC and Lotteries announced was supposed to be a cost saving measure for Manitoba taxpayers. And yet here we are spending $74 million – likely much if the province’s track record of real estate mismanagement is any indication – on an unnecessary capital expenditure with no return on investment in sight.

In a soft office real estate market in Winnipeg, this is a very risky bet by the Premier at a time when the Province’s liquidity is poor. And with the NDP’s extensive track record of massive cost overruns in construction, taxpayers should have our fingers crossed that we don’t lose the farm from Selinger’s $74 million gamble on the new Liquor and Lotteries Headquarters.

Will Elections Manitoba Play Fair?

As the 2016 provincial election approaches, ensuring a proper campaign and vote rests with Elections Manitoba. While the provincial agency is supposed to apply electoral law and further transparency based on its political neutrality and independence from government, will it?

My concern begins with the hiring and managing of the Chief Electoral Officer. While overseen by the Legislature’s Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs, that committee is dominated by the NDP. Both its Chair and Vice-Chair are NDP MLAs and committee meetings are seldom and short.

Richard Balasko, who served as Chief Electoral Officer from 1990 to 2010, recently co-edited a guide to fair elections entitled The Informed Citizen’s’ Guide to Elections. Balasko retired in 2010 under a cloud of suspicion following a very delayed public discovery of 1999 NDP election misdeeds. In my view, under Balasko’s leadership Elections Manitoba effectively allowed NDP misdeeds to be largely hidden.

Before the 2003 provincial election, Elections Manitoba’s actions kept 1999 NDP campaign misdeeds unrecognized. Coincidentally, Balasko’s salary leaped from $109,000 to $148,000. In 2010, just ahead of the 2011 election, media attention finally focused on the NDP’s misdeeds of 1999. Despite being grilled by opposition members and the media, Balasko contained the scandal by being vague and elusive. And, coincidentally, while civil servants anticipated a salary freeze Balasko’s compensation seemingly jumped by $60,000 to $224,000.

The Toronto Sun reported on what was a very under-reported Manitoba scandal: “In 1999, the NDP claimed services of union members who worked on the campaigns of 13 candidates as a reimbursable expense rather than non-reimbursable donations in kind … triggering a $76,000 grant the party wasn’t entitled to. At least one NDP official agent said someone slipped … deliberately.” Greg Selinger’s return was one of the falsified returns.

The fact is that Elections Manitoba, under the direction of Balasko, allowed major NDP malfeasance not to be properly flagged. While Balasko laid charges against opposition candidates for very minor transgressions, he ignored major transgressions of the NDP government. It took four years before Elections Manitoba even reported publicly on the NDP’s falsified 1999 return, and then the agency’s report was incomplete, vague and misleading. Cynics might think Elections Manitoba served as a foot soldier of the NDP.

The electorate re-elected the NDP in 2003, 2007 and 2011, largely unaware of the breaches of election law the NDP committed in the 1999 provincial election. While the audit that followed the 1999 election confirmed NDP’s illegal actions, Balasko’s agency played down the significance of the misdeeds. Charges should have been laid.

Elections Manitoba staff had even altered NDP agents’ returns; neither the candidates nor their official agents signed those amended returns. Subsequently, the Elections Manitoba staffer that signed off on the alterations was promoted. The actions of the NDP and Elections Manitoba were worse than simply being wrong. Elections Manitoba’s actions appear biased.

Should or can the public be confident that Elections Manitoba will hold the NDP to the same standard as the other parties in the upcoming April 2016 election? It takes more to be independent than just saying you are.

The governance of Elections remains seriously flawed. And, over a few years, its newest Chief Electoral Officer has seen her salary doubled.

Your Hydro Bill is about to Skyrocket

Your Hydro bill is about to skyrocket. The road taken by Hydro on the direction of its inept NDP master will lead to electricity bills that will strangle the province’s economy and test the ability of lower-income consumers to keep
their homes. For the estimated 140,000 households that heat electrically, the damage will be particularly grievous – their Hydro bills will soar.

A decade ago, the cost of heating electrically or by natural gas was pretty much the same. Now
the cost of heating with natural gas is about half that of electricity. For our 1360-square-foot
bungalow, and despite our being away most of the winter, the 2014-2015 space and water
heater gas bill was $732. Our electricity bill (including air conditioning) was $1090. If we heated electrically and stayed here all winter, our overall bill could have been about $900 higher.

Electricity rates are already 41% higher than in 2003-04. Back then, our annual electricity bill was not today’s $1090 but $750. Based on Hydro’s latest rate forecast by 2032 our electricity bill will be about $2150, three times its 2003-04 cost. Much worse for those heating electrically and staying here in the winter their annual Hydro bill could then exceed $5000. For larger poorly insulated houses, Hydro bills could be much higher. A good share of Hydro revenue goes to a spendthrift government.

While Hydro’s projections are not attractive, the real outcome will likely be worse. Hydro’s forecasting record is abysmal. The monopoly utility habitually advances wrong forecasts of construction costs, export volumes and prices, domestic consumption and customer rates.

Instead of relying on Hydro’s forecasts, best to expect rates and bills will be much worse than Hydro now predicts.

Mostly borrowed funds fuel an overall plan having a price tag of close to $40 billion. That enormous sum includes billions for replacement and upgrading pre-expansion infrastructure as well constructing uneconomic new plant. While the plan has come under withering and relentless attack, including by outside experts, the NDP refuses to either commission a truly independent review or simply give it up.

Why? Because, if they halted the madness they would be admitting that they have already wasted billions. Such an admission would likely relegate the party to oblivion in the upcoming provincial election, a responsible government would move to protect taxpayers and Hydro customers. Such a government would worry more about the financial well-being of present and future Manitobans than their political position and legacy. A truly caring government wouldn’t spend $40 billion chasing an illusion. It would focus on fixing existing infrastructure, understanding a rapidly changing electricity market, holding down costs and diversifying supply.

A gas-fired plant in Brandon needs clear-minded consideration. Greater reliance on energy efficiency and demand suppression, while opening up Hydro’s supply monopoly would allow for reduced rate increases. With Hydro’s expansion plan being funded by business and residential consumers, the future for Manitoba is much bleaker than it should be.

There still is time to call a halt to a nonsensical and out-dated pipe dream.

With 30% of Manitoban households considered low-income and 35% of properties heated electrically, the twin objectives of the pre-NDP Hydro–reliable supply at lowest cost- should be restored. Your Hydro bill is about to skyrocket.

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Hydro Bills Will Soar

The road taken by Hydro on the direction of its inept NDP master will lead to electricity bills that
will strangle the province’s economy and test the ability of lower-income consumers to keep
their homes. For the estimated 140,000 households that heat electrically, the damage will be particularly grievous – their Hydro bills will soar.

A decade ago, the cost of heating electrically or by natural gas was pretty much the same. Now
the cost of heating with natural gas is about half that of electricity. For our 1360-square-foot
bungalow, and despite our being away most of the winter, the 2014-2015 space and water
heater gas bill was $732. Our electricity bill (including air conditioning) was $1090. If we heated electrically and stayed here all winter, our overall bill could have been about $900 higher.

Electricity rates are already 41% higher than in 2003-04. Back then, our annual electricity bill was not today’s $1090 but $750. Based on Hydro’s latest rate forecast by 2032 our electricity bill will be about $2150, three times its 2003-04 cost. Much worse for those heating electrically and staying here in the winter their annual Hydro bill could then exceed $5000. For larger poorly insulated houses, Hydro bills could be much higher. A good share of Hydro revenue goes to a spendthrift government.

While Hydro’s projections are not attractive, the real outcome will likely be worse. Hydro’s forecasting record is abysmal. The monopoly utility habitually advances wrong forecasts of construction costs, export volumes and prices, domestic consumption and customer rates.

Instead of relying on Hydro’s forecasts, best to expect rates and bills will be much worse than Hydro now predicts.

Mostly borrowed funds fuel an overall plan having a price tag of close to $40 billion. That enormous sum includes billions for replacement and upgrading pre-expansion infrastructure as well constructing uneconomic new plant. While the plan has come under withering and relentless attack, including by outside experts, the NDP refuses to either commission a truly independent review or simply give it up.

Why? Because, if they halted the madness they would be admitting that they have already wasted billions. Such an admission would likely relegate the party to oblivion in the upcoming provincial election, a responsible government would move to protect taxpayers and Hydro customers. Such a government would worry more about the financial well-being of present and future Manitobans than their political position and legacy. A truly caring government wouldn’t spend $40 billion chasing an illusion. It would focus on fixing existing infrastructure, understanding a rapidly changing electricity market, holding down costs and diversifying supply.

A gas-fired plant in Brandon needs clear-minded consideration. Greater reliance on energy efficiency and demand suppression, while opening up Hydro’s supply monopoly would allow for reduced rate increases. With Hydro’s expansion plan being funded by business and residential consumers, the future for Manitoba is much bleaker than it should be.

There still is time to call a halt to a nonsensical and out-dated pipe dream.

With 30% of Manitoban households considered low-income and 35% of properties heated electrically, the twin objectives of the pre-NDP Hydro–reliable supply at lowest cost- should be restored. Otherwise your Hydro bills will soar.

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Political Payback is Coming

As the expiration of the NDP’s long reign over Manitoba approaches by way of the upcoming April 2016 provincial election, collective agreements for unions the NDP relies on to keep it in power are up for renegotiation. With few exceptions unions – but not all their members – support the NDP. The party’s strategy is to slow down and stick-handle negotiations so that the cost of the settlements will not be known until after the election.

 The long list of collective agreements overdue for renegotiation include the Manitoba Government Employees Union (MGEU); unions and associations representing government lawyers and engineers, physicians, child care and support workers; and the IBEW. While professionals, such as physicians, and the skilled trades often are not NDP supporters, the NDP will still put on kid gloves; service disruptions ahead of elections aren’t good for governments.

With the NDP government hopelessly conflicted, predicting eventual good results for the members of the unions and associations negotiating with them is a solid bet. The stars are aligned in their favour.

 The overall cost of the salaries, wages and benefits involved in bargaining are immense, representing by far the largest cost component of the provincial government’s budget. The government’s collective bargaining stance likely affects 150,000 workers – the provincial government is the largest paymaster in Manitoba by far. The results of the bargaining will not only impact the Province’s books, but will be a factor in upcoming labour and service bargaining by Crown corporations and agencies and services funded by government.

 The weakness of the provincial government and general conditions bode well for eventual success for the unions, associations and agencies. The NDP, directly and,most recently indirectly through Manitoba Hydro, has further reduced its chances of holding down the cost of renewing the contracts by lavishing huge severance payments on ex-Selinger aides (most quickly hired by other NDP governments and parties) and providing incredibly high raises for Hydro executives. Worse, the government shows no interest in cutting back, regardless of ongoing deficit woes,

 It matters little that many public servants already earn more than their private equivalents, have better employee benefits, and enjoy pensions that most private sector employees will never see. It matters even less that the government is drowning in debt, lacks the courage to throttle back spending to deal with its structural deficit, and has had its credit rating downgraded. Economic conditions outside the public sector are far from good.

 The largest union locked in negotiations with the government is the 14,000-strong MGEU. This union has always supported the NDP, now in its hour of need. Former NDP Premier Doer once led the MGEU. The NDP now tries to wash its hands of its responsibility to deal with the union, leaving a three person arbitration panel to settle the matter. Its chair is Michael Werier, who also serves as Chairperson of the WCB, an agency currently involved in labour-leaning changes to its employer assessment model and implementing unwise and un-costed improved claim conditions for workers diagnosed as suffering from stress.