by Graham Lane
Published in the Winnipeg Sun, March 15, 2019
Two characteristics Pallister and Trudeau share are a strong ego and a never apology stance. Trudeau displays his high opinion of himself with endless selfies, costuming up for India, and not apologizing over the Lavalin saga. And, so much for him being a feminist. Pallister sounds off against both the other government he needs (federal) and those he feeds (municipal). He has yet to apologize for wasting billions of ratepayer money by continuing the NDP’s wasteful Hydro expansion.
Manitoba’s sprawling low-performing public sector remains stuck in the past. However, by employing creative accounting around the timing and booking of costs, slashing road and infrastructure spending, and with almost $5 billion in federal transfers (thanks Alberta!), the Pallister government boasts the fiction that its doing a fabulous job in running the province and bringing its deficit to zero. Thus Pallister’s 2019-2020 budget fulfills his pre-2016 election promise by reducing PST back to where it was before Selinger’s NDP government effectively slit its throat by upping it after promising it wouldn’t.
In the recent budget, Pallister plans to handicap the opposition parties by starving their election campaign budgets, while still holding back critical information on just how much money will flow from the provincial government to the City of Winnipeg and other municipalities – despite being three months into 2019.
The federal February jobs report notes Manitoba employment decreased 3,300 while other provinces saw a 59,000 increase. More ominously, the latest economic forecast for Manitoba for 2020 has the province’s GPP (gross provincial product) growing at an anemic .7 of 1%. The Province’s population growth will grow more than that. It is clear that the Hydro boondoggle, while generating immense future rate hike risk for ratepayers, drove a “sugar-high” better annual GPP growth during the ‘build’ stage.
No wonder Pallister muses about calling the next election for the spring of 2020, rather the expectation of an October joust.
A good part of Pallister’s “balancing the budget” optic will come from Manitoba’s Crown corporations. They are a significant percentage of economic activity and will deliver half a billion a year of fees and taxes to Pallister’s ‘summary budget’. Without those crowns, Pallister would still be looking for a billion to get out of deficit, So why would ‘puppet master’ Pallister drive out three business savvy chairs of Manitoba Crown corporations.
The board of directors of Crown corporations for Liquor and Lotteries, MPI and Manitoba Hydro have been replaced with people lacking the track record of those sacked. First to go was Sandy Riley, ‘recruited’ to build a strong business board for Hydro, only to be pushed out by Pallister wanting a more ‘obliging’ chair. That was followed by the turfing of Brent VanKoughnet (was MPI Chair) and Polly Craik (was Liquor and Lottery Chair). The reasons for the dismissals need further analysis: coming soon.
Unfortunately, no independent organization (for example, the Manitoba Business Council) has urged Pallister to bring in true transformational changes. This has allowed Pallister to delude himself. His 2020 budget brags “lowering PST, fixing our finances, improving our services, rebuilding our economy, supporting our communities, keeping Manitoba safe, keeping our promises”.
Every one of these ‘positive’ statements can be challenged.