Besting Bowman

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, January 26, 2018

Should Brian Bowman get a second term as Winnipeg’s Mayor?  On his record to-date, no, but that doesn’t mean he would lose. Winnipeg’s electorate need an experienced fiscal conservative to run. The search for one should be ‘on’, now.

A recent Sun poll had over 80% of respondents unimpressed with Bowman. Why? Instead of focusing on reducing excessive costs in administration and operations and cutting property taxes, he defaults to quick and easy ways to balance the City’s books. He raids the water utility, brings in a new damaging development ‘impact’ tax, ups fines, fees and water rates, continuing the pattern of milking the populace with a myriad of questionable revenue raising actions.

Real policy reform is what is needed, and Bowman will never deliver that. Lacking administrative leadership experience, he has let the firefighter and police departments run amok; missed a critical date to file a lawsuit related to an incredibly over-budget sewer plant; has seen critical managers leave; and, over-looked bringing a critical option to the Sterling Lyon Parkway extension to affected property owners attention.

Struggling to balance the Province’s books following a debilitating too long NDP reign, Pallister’s provincial government has taken some austerity measures. One was not to boost its grant to the City for transit services. Instead of diligently employing expense control to live within the revenue available, Bowman and his Executive Policy buddies boosted inflationary transit and parking fees: expect reduced traffic to downtown businesses and continued dismay for those parking during regular hospital visits.

Upon learning the Province wouldn’t increase its transit grants, Bowman began logically with a review of passenger counts on the various routes. The review revealed 22 routes where service could be cut back significantly without truly damaging service. Many of the examined routes have too little usage to justify full daily service. But, when an outcry arose from the left-wing spending lobbies and the transit union, Bowman quickly kowtowed to those concerns with his inflationary meter parking and fare rates while continuing to run those mostly empty buses. .

Bowman’s government is as incompetent as the provincial government when it comes to estimating the costs of major infrastructure projects. With overruns for the new police headquarters, bus rapid transit, and the new sewage plant (expected to cost $1.4 billion), Bowman does no better estimating cost than the NDP were with Wuskwatim, Keeyask and Bipole III.

All of this and his soft-gloved approach to City unions at the bargaining table. Bowman prefers quick and easy revenue increases rather than taking on the hard and difficult task of truly holding down labour costs and improving the productivity of the City’s personnel. Collective agreement settlements remain disconnected from reality – continuing to involve raises for unionized workers while the private sector struggles along in a changing economy.. The recent revelation that the City pays or subsidizes the Firefighters’ union boss’s salary is shocking. Are other union bosses being subsidized as well?

Unfortunately for Bowman, more and more City taxpayers are catching on, meaning Bowman could be beat in this year’s upcoming mayoral race. Winnipeg taxpayers should have seen enough of Bowman to know what to expect if he was to be re-elected.

Hopefully, a sensible and experienced alternative will soon come forward.

Tribalism: Justin Trudeau Dismembers His Father’s One Canada Vision

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, January 19, 2018

Pierre Trudeau (PT) remains the most divisive Prime Minister in Canadian history – he is both loved and loathed. But, for all of the controversy, he championed One Canada. He boldly fought against what he perceived as “The Two Solitudes” – in which English and French Canada did not speak. He fought to bring them together. There has never been a stronger nationalist leader in our country. PT believed in the rule of law, equal rights for all Canadians, and a limited role of government in the social fPierre Trudeau (PT) remains the most divisive Prime Minister in Canadian history – he is both loved and loathed. But, for all of the controversy, he championed One Canada. He boldly fought against what he perceived as “The Two Solitudes” – in which English and French Canada did not speak. He fought to bring them together. There has never been a stronger nationalist leader in our country. PT believed in the rule of law, equal rights for all Canadians, and a limited role of government in the social fabric of our society.

While his economic policies – deficits, borrowing, National Energy Policy, and the Constitution and Charter of Rights, reman controversial, the commitment to One Canada does not. No mod-ern Prime Minister has done more to foster a sense of unity and pride in One Canada than Pierre Trudeau.

It is, therefore, deeply disappointing that his son, Justin, has moved in the opposite direction. Within the liberal movements in Canada there has been a trend to abandon Pierre’s one-country policy and use identity politics (tribalism) to ‘dice and slice up’ the electorate into smaller seg-ments of society. Justin’s goal is to define each group, then to make a pitch to each group about how his political foe, the Conservatives, are against minorities, claiming that only liberals will pro-tect minorities from the prejudice of the majority.

Gone is JFK- like “think not of what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. Justin dismisses his father’s statement that “(Canada) will only remain united – it should only remain united – if its citizens want to live together in one civil society.” The idea of one coun-try, with a multicultural basis, a strong belief of Pierre’s, has been weakened.

Pierre Trudeau was a strong believer in the law and one Canada. If it were not for his passionate belief in one country, it is almost certain that Canada would have broken up during the rise of Rene Levesque and the Parti Quebecois and its separatist mandate.

With his son, we see him carving out niche after niche after niche. Catering to any and all groups that claim special status. The reality is that under the first Trudeau, PT, we ‘all’ were hap-py to be Canadians. The second Trudeau prime minister wants us all to be hyphenated Canadi-ans – be LGBT Canadians, First Nation Canadians, Indo-Canadians, first generation Canadians, Muslim Canadians, etc. etc..

The only time that Justin Trudeau has spoken in similar tones to his father – saying “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” – was in connection with Zakaria Amara, a Jordanian-Canadian serving a life sentence for a plot to kill scores of Canadians. When legislation to remove his citi-zenship was enacted by the previous Harper government, to allow for Mr. Amara to be deported to Jordan, Justin had the law repealed after he became PM. Justin ensured that Amara (and others of his ilk) will remain in Canada. Justin insists that even recently immigrant terrorists should remain Canadians.

It is sad that Trudeau Junior hasn’t learned the lessons taught by his father as to believing in one country, one Canada. I wonder how Pierre Trudeau would think about the hyphenation of Cana-dians under his son.
abric of our society.

Competing Visions Of A Future Manitoba

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, January 12, 2018

Looking forward to a better future is a human trait. Companies, groups and governments do it. Think tanks do it too.

Last summer Winnipeg’s venerable Frontier Centre for Public Policy republished an old commentary that envisioned a future Manitoba where the population had exploded to 3 million. That prediction is radical by the plodding standards of our province’s present political classes.

The model contrasts starkly to the Pallister government’s present course, where budgets reach balance in 7 years, based on tax and utility increases and teensy tweaks to barnacled, low-performing, NDP government models. It has Manitoba embracing a smaller, less-costly, and higher performing public sector, bringing significantly lower taxes in an economy now predominantly driven by private enterprise.

Pro-active changes reduce government ownership of the economy, boosting private investment bringing about a lift in incomes sufficient to bring an end to Manitoba’s chronic dependency on federal equalization grants. It’s a major transformation – shrinking government (provincial and municipal) bureaucracy, focusing governments’ attention on core tasks with public sector efficiencies invested in dramatic tax cuts encouraging private sector investments, job creation and further in migration.

Personal provincial income tax rates would fall by half, payroll taxes would end, and the PST would be reduced and harmonized with the GST (simplifying administration and boosting private investment). As is routine best practice around the world, government would regulate, not own, MPI, WCB, MLL and Hydro. Public sector staffing would be benchmarked to national averages, with the current monopolies in the education and healthcare sectors removed to boost productivity.

Gone would be policies that now artificially limit housing availability and boost prices by restricting building lot supply. Agriculture would expand rapidly with the inevitable end of supply management, allowing the egg, poultry and dairy industries to expand and create thousands of new jobs. Such a massive transformation, fueled by vision and real political leadership, would bring about a new ‘have’ province.

Such a make-over would be challenging, no doubt. Unfortunately, the Pallister government neither has the policy capacity nor leadership to take this logical but opposite path towards the realization of a future prosperous “have” province. Tweaking broken stagnation models is futile, as are meager clumsy cuts and fake austerity which, just might, annoy enough voters to return the “have not” province oriented NDP in the 2020 election: an event that would end all hope for a grand transformation.

With Pallister’s go slowly not bravely approach, time and real opportunities are disappearing.

Instead of transforming public services and cutting taxes, we are getting a politically lethal carbon dioxide tax, massive electricity rate hikes, and another political play-toy crown – the rather Orwellian named Efficiency Manitoba. This, just as we enter into a fragile economic period: increasing interest rates; a potential end to NAFTA; Trump’s tax cuts and energy dominance policies; and, more deficits and credit downgrades.

The Province is not well-served by Pallister’s tinkering, which would end up making the situation worse.

If Pallister doesn’t start making significant transformational changes soon, our economy risks further stagnation, an end to the immigration boom, and more of our young and professionals leaving.

Which vision will win out? Will we have a growth or stagnation model? Pallister’s time to choose is soon up.

Competitive and affordable? No!

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, January 05, 2018

In his last financial news release of 2017, Finance Minister Friesen asserted that the Pallister government is focused on ensuring a Manitoba tax environment that is “competitive and affordable.” Approaching two years into Pallister’s reign, both goals are nowhere close to being achieved.

Taxpayers are regularly fleeced by inefficient governments. We pay top dollar for inefficient public services through excessive taxation and expensively produced commodities and services. Governments avoid benchmarking (which is a key to successful business operations) like the plague, they lack a performance measurement culture.

Consumer Price Index (CPI) readings have been close to the Bank of Canada’s preferred 2% rate for annual inflation. But, while the monthly CPI readings are important, they provide no indication of governments’ role in increasing inflation. This ongoing purposely lack of awareness assist successive governments in hiding low productivity while piling on debts and pushing up taxation and fees. Families have to live with inflation-level income increases, our governments don’t.

Examining the impacts of policies pursued by both the Manitoba and Winnipeg governments disclose an inflationary bias damaging to taxpayers. Some of those actions do affect the CPI – such as a change in gasoline taxes, others directly impact the disposable incomes of taxpayers. But, governments seem immune to concern over higher than inflation tax and tax-like utility increases.

Compare the published Manitoba CPI with recent revenue grabs of both the provincial government and the City of Winnipeg – grabs well in excess of the inflation rate. Let us also consider problematic actions of both the Selinger and Pallister provincial governments that affect ratepayers directly but do not show up in the CPI.

In the last staggering years of Selinger’s reign the NDP twice increased its revenue take from the PST – both increases more than reported CPI increases. First, by way of broadening the reach of the PST, the second by adding to the rate. Total annual take going forward – over $500 million and growing. Ostensibly a fiscal conservative, Pallister is poised to skewer the Manitoba PC Party by stumbling ahead with a politically toxic carbon dioxide tax – to bring $260 million a year going forward (an action representing many times the CPI).  Never mind, that orthodox climate theory posits that this tax be “neutral” with offsetting cuts to income and sales tax, etc..

While Selinger made mistake after mistake on the Hydro file, Pallister’s personal folly was to not press “stop” on Keeyask/Bipole. Now, we watch Hydro seek 8% annual rate hikes out six or more years – four times the CPI each year.  As for other government files, under Pallister MPI has already upped premiums twice (both increases two times CPI), WCB clings to excessive reserves rather than rebating to employers, and other public sector agencies have the green light to up fees rather than really economize.

And, as for the City of Winnipeg, under Bowman we have a new “impact’ fee (pushing development outside the perimeter) and CPI plus increases for water utility rates, meter parking and transit fares. Bowman’s reach for new revenue rather than improving the City’s efficiency is troublesome.

Without proper benchmarking, the inefficiencies of the Province and Winnipeg cannot be creditably assessed. But, just looking at the revenue grabs, neither government is “competitive” or “affordable”.