A Baker’s Dozen – Policies to Make Manitoba Great Again

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, February 23, 2018

The Pallister government lacks the policy chops and vision to make Manitoba ‘great again’. The NDP’s model
and support administration remains largely intact as a new PC budget with a damaging carbon dioxide tax
looms.

Instead of Pallister’s ‘more of the same’, our deeply-indebted Province, with chronic annual deficits and a
large lower-income population segment, needs actions to bring about an economic revival. Following the
prescriptions of Pallister and NDP’s Kinew would keep our economy mired in excess debt, taxes and fees. This,
just as interest rates are rising, bringing the further risk of severe job losses if NAFTA is gutted.

Manitoba needs a substantial make-over. Pallister should make taxes more competitive by modernizing our
public sector. It should provide good customer service at an efficient cost. We need to prepare for what is
coming, more competition for our industries and jobs. Manitobans need to feel more secure here, so our
young and professionals will not keep leaving as they have for decades. It is fine that we have been receiving
more immigrants than we have since the early 1900s, but we need to keep them here.

So, ahead of what likely will be a disappointing provincial budget, here is a policy roadmap for a confident,
fearless, successful and growing Manitoba:

Cancel the Pallister Carbon Dioxide Tax while repealing Efficiency Manitoba legislation and refocusing
environment policy back to the basics of clean air and water – no more old Soviet-style energy central
planning.

Begin a comprehensive reform of Manitoba Hydro – sell Centra Gas and separate Hydro’s debt from its
uneconomic expansion to reduce rate hikes before considering other major restructuring.

Bring real transformative healthcare and education reform, focus on improving outcomes and lowering costs –
bringing both metrics to at least the Canadian average.

Start post-secondary education reform by removing race-based/gender- based entry quotas and mandatory
political education courses. Focus funding on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Tax reform – repeal the payroll tax and land transfer tax, reduce corporate and income tax rates to western
Canadian average, and adopt a harmonized sales tax (merge GST and PST).

End traffic fines as taxation policy. End revenue-maximizing special enforcement policies.

Promote bidding by open-shop contractors for infrastructure projects, and bring in gold-standard
procurement policies throughout the public sector.

Refund the Workers Compensation Board’s excessive accumulated surplus to employers, and amend MPI’s
investment policy to boost investment revenue towards reducing premiums.

As part of broader City of Winnipeg Act reforms, repeal Winnipeg's development-phobic development impact tax, review restrictive and expensive licenses and inspections, and stop raiding the water utility to artificially reduce property tax increases.

Bring in a comprehensive MLA conflict of interest act while truly practicing openness and transparency at both
the municipal and provincial levels.

Remove the Province from retail distribution of alcohol and marijuana.

Enable a sharing economy, such as ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. Work with the federal government to move the proposed Lowlands National Park away from an ‘untouched’ and valuable $2 billion nickel deposit – a future job and economic driver for Manitoba.

Our provincial government needs to begin bringing back a pioneer spirit to reinvigorate Manitoba’s economy,
to benefit our collective future.

Coalition Cops Out With Advice To PUB

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, February 16, 2018

The Consumers Association and Winnipeg Harvest (the Coalition) copped out, giving weak advice to PUB, recommending Hydro get a 2.95% rate hike. If the Public Utilities Board (PUB) goes along, Hydro would get only a smidgin of the financial help it needs.

If the Coalition had simply stated that Manitoba households and economy could not deal with the massive hikes Hydro claims it needs, and sought help from the Pallister government to allow annual rate hikes closer to inflation, its recommendation would have made more sense. Driving up electricity rates as much as Hydro seeks would damage not only households but the economy itself.

Unfortunately the Coalition challenged and then ignored the large cost and debt pressures on Hydro, pressures brought on by a foolish and poorly managed expansion, that, without help from government, requires even more than the massive hikes Hydro now seeks.

Annual electricity rate hikes at the rate of general inflation (1% to 3%) would have been attainable if Hydro had not been pushed by the Doer-Selinger NDP government to build Wuskwatim, Keeyask, a now stalled Conawapa, and a ‘loopy’ Bipole III. But, even after the Pallister PC regime took power, Hydro arrogantly pushed on. A Hydro debt load of $25 billion looms as interest rates head higher.

A Hydro debt level of $25 billion would place a $20,000 mortgage on every man, woman and child in Manitoba.  Export prices available to Hydro are a fraction of what is needed, the result of shale gas and wind and solar renewables. And, a drought is ‘overdue’.

The situation is dire, either massive annual hikes or help from the provincial government is required. Government, Hydro’s single shareholder, should either slash the approaching $500 million of annual levies it rakes of ratepayers bills or absorb a good share of Hydro’s debt.  One or the other, otherwise ridiculous high rate hikes.

Going with the Coalition’s advice would result in greater Hydro debt, debt repayments and interest, eventually to risk ruining Manitoba’s debt rating. This is not the time to bury our heads in the sand. It is the time for acknowledging the situation and acting sensibly. First, we should acknowledge that none of the available options are ‘good’. The damage done by the ill-fated and not-needed expansion cannot be ‘wished away’.

Even at this eleventh hour, before the PUB ruling, Pallister should properly recognize government’s major role in the boondoggle and either take debt off Hydro’s back or slash the levies it now annually burdens Hydro’s ratepayers with. This would save consumers and the economy, allowing a work-out of the debt burden over decades. Remember, if PUB goes along with Hydro and approves 7.9% annual increases through to at least 2024, both ratepayers and the overall Manitoba economy will be severely damaged.

PUB should recognize that the Coalition’s recommendation as a cry for ‘mercy’; consumers being asked to shoulder huge debts arising from the sins of a monopoly Crowns corporation and its government. PUB should recognize this as the real problem, and make smarter and safer recommendations to the government.

And, it’s never too late to hold that inquiry into Hydro that Kinew hopes never happens and Pallister has so far reneged on. Much better than a future ‘post mortem’.

Educating McKenna – Carbon Dioxide is Not Pollution

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, February 9, 2018

Federal Climate Change minister Catherine McKenna, a lawyer, repeatedly uses the term “fighting carbon pollution” to rationalize the Trudeau Government’s obsession with taxing energy consumption. Tragically, her policy pronouncements reveal enormous ignorance of basic science and economics. Their policy will deliberately raise energy costs in a vast often-cold country competing with an burgeoning American economy where its political leadership is going the opposite way – pushing “energy dominance” policies that maximize oil, coal and natural gas production.

No surprise, cheaper American energy policies are creating jobs, manufacturing investment, and raising living standards.  McKenna’s energy policies will do the opposite for the Canadian economy, as Ontario and other provinces that have implemented the green agenda know. It will enrich her government and fill the pockets of subsidy-seeking groups and corporate cronies who benefit from damaging Canada’s conventional energy sector.

A few facts underscore the false basis for the carbon tax scam starting with the misnomer, “Carbon pollution.” While carbon is a solid, they mean Carbon Dioxide (CO2), a gas. The word “carbon” is used because most people connect it to soot, as it becomes an Orwellian-named new revenue tool – the carbon tax.

According to Dr. Tim Ball, a retired University of Winnipeg climatologist, CO2 is not a pollutant but a harmless natural trace gas vital to plant existence. Plants take in CO2 and give off oxygen; without photosynthesis both plants and animals die. CO2 is a trace gas, representing but a fraction of the atmosphere. Ball notes that present CO2 levels are 400 parts per million, just 0.04 percent of the atmosphere (equivalent of 40 pennies in a jar of 100,000). Most CO2, 99% of it, comes from natural sources – plant and animal respiration, soil decomposition, volcanoes, ocean evaporation. Man-made sources are minuscule – equivalent of 1.2 of the 40 pennies in a jar of 100,000 pennies.

Higher CO2 levels pose no direct hazard to human health. CO2 in submarines can reach levels well above 10,000 ppm without harming the crew. The average atmospheric level for the last 270 million years is, at 1200 ppm, interestingly, the optimum level for plant growth. Professor Ball observes correlation with temperature is equally dispelled in the geologic record. What is known as the Ordovician Ice Age, 495 million years ago, had CO2 levels of 4500 ppm. Ball observes that Antarctic ice core data shows temperature increases long before CO2 increases, not as assumed in the human-caused warming theories used in climate models.

With these facts, it should be impossible to claim, as McKenna does, that human production of CO2 is tipping our climate towards disaster. Bjorn Lomborg, a statistics professor and author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist”, estimates that implementing the Paris Climate Agreement by 2030 would reduce temperatures only 0.048°C by 2100.  Politicians use the false CO2 story because it enables massive new taxation and further government control under the guise of saving the planet.

Finally, Professor Ball confirms that this dishonest story misuses computer models, claiming human carbon dioxide will cause a global climate crisis, that have been consistently wrong.

The carbon tax party is gearing up, politicians selecting and using false facts  And it is about to rip the political landscape.  In Ontario and Manitoba.

Time To Consider A Tiered Minimum Wage

by Graham Lane

Published in the Winnipeg Sun, February 2, 2018

Calls for a higher minimum wage continues. As does pressure for higher personal tax exemptions.  More affluent provinces have already boosted personal tax exemptions and are headed for a $15 minimum.. Support for both  is understandable  – the cost of living rises while disposable income is hurt by governments’ insatiable search for revenue. It is difficult to meet household bills for lower-skilled service workers.

Adults working in lower paying jobs (found in the fiercely competitive retail, accommodation, restaurant and theatre industries) can be the main income support for their families. Often low-wage jobs are the only employment available.  Better-paying manufacturing jobs have declined significantly with automation, further drops are likely.

Pushing up the minimum wage beyond what small and local firms can afford would result in layoffs and reduced employee complements. The Bank of Canada recently suggested that 60,000 jobs could be lost by major 2018 minimum wage jumps., And, what about young people seeking their first job or needing part-time to fund their education? If we insist on ALL jobs paying an ever increasing minimum wage, how will they do? Will they be priced out of the market? Is that something society should accept?

Manitoba only stopped having a two tier minimum wage in 1988. In the U.K., to  ether ensure young people are not priced out of the market, there are tiered minimum wage rates.  Here, fewer young people work in highly visible service jobs compared to other countries – like south of the border, where lower minimum wage rates generally reign.

The UK has four levels of minimum wages depending on age, with a fifth specifically for apprentices under the age of 19.  The lowest wage is for those under 18, while the highest is for those over 25. The C$ equivalent is $5.77 for high school students rising to C$ $12.36 for those over 25.

Should we adopt a similar structure – perhaps less stratified but with the same concept?  It could make it easier for employers to hire young people, while setting  higher wages for fully productive adults?

Minimum wages have escalated substantially. For instance, in 1967, the minimum wage was $1.00 per hour, which in today money is about $6.00 per hour.  Even more recently, 1997, the minimum wage was $5.40 per hour, which, applying inflation, works out to $7.80 per hour

Most who worked when in high school or university look back at their early working experiences as being important to their development, particularly as to learning work skills.  But, they also look back realizing that they were often not that productive and might never have been hired under the current higher minimum wage regime, let alone if $15 per hour.

If we continue to escalate the current one size fits all minimum wage beyond inflation, we will price young people out of the market. But, job experience is vital for young people. Time to consider returning to a tiered minimum? Our young need opportunities to enter the job market, and employers should not be pushed into reducing their staff.

Manitoba PC government should exercise leadership, and seriously consider tiered minimums. Ahead of that, personal tax exemptions should be seriously upped and indexed.