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Grim story tells of needed change

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18Feb

By: Graham Lane
Posted 01/07/2016

Another year of NDP mismanagement is done, another begins. Predictably, after missing its deficit target again by a country mile, Premier Greg Selinger muses about even more taxes — this time, a surtax on the rich.

There is no talk of smarter policy or even a token stab at government efficiency. Efficiency does not exist in his NDP’s dictionary. As the NDP runs again its outrageously dishonest “running with scissors” TV commercials against Brian Pallister, it continues to operate Canada’s most expensive and worst-performing health-care and education systems.

Add, in its mega-fiasco Manitoba Hydro — borrowing tens of billions to build dams without markets, doubling the province’s gross debt in the process, they lead Manitoba towards fiscal disaster. Yet, despite this tax-and-spend gong show, I am oppressed by a terrible sense of foreboding that Selinger’s clueless lot could win again.

By Election Day, the NDP will have held power for almost 17 years. During that time, they, according to 2013 Statistics Canada numbers, aggressively grew Manitoba’s public sector. Now, Manitoba’s ratio of government jobs to total population (excluding the federal government) is 36% larger than the Canadian average.

This spending spree is but one reason the NDP failed to balance the provincial budget, even though it has sharply increased taxes while benefitting fortuitously from federal transfer payment increases and record low interest rates, holding down, for now, borrowing costs.

While the government tries to hold our focus on so-called “net debt,” loans made for core operations, the truth is, through Manitoba Hydro and other government-controlled or funded agencies, total provincial supported debt is now $60,000 a family, heading for $100,000.

As for the government’s annual deficit, forecast to reach $550 million including its agencies, it is understated, ignoring advances to agencies (to be paid off through future taxation), costs kept out of the counted deficit and deferred for decades, and currency losses of about $500 million for Hydro alone. If the NDP scrapes through the 2016 election, we will end 2016 headed for doubling again the province’s per capita debt within 15 years. No surprise that Moody’s, a bond rating agency, downgraded Manitoba’s credit rating.

What did we get for the NDP’s profligate public sector spending spree, record taxation and borrowing? Not much.

Not surprisingly, high taxes and spending have depressed private investment and given Manitoba the lowest average wages in western Canada. But the big spending model has also produced mediocre results across the public policy board: 30% of children and families living in poverty; 11,000 children in foster care; robberies and break-ins, up (a crime rate second only to the territories); the highest emergency waiting times in Canada; clogged courts; youth gangs; food banks; rising Hydro rates; four remote northern First Nations still left relying on diesel for electricity; Canada’s worst international education testing results; poor conversion of immigrant investors to active businesses; no new major industry in 15 years; and, still, crumbling roads throughout Winnipeg. Even the poor get whacked by income taxes — Manitoba starts charging income tax at $9,134, compared to $15,639 in Saskatchewan.

It’s a grim story, no matter how you cut it, and one that desperately screams out the case for change in the upcoming election.

Graham Lane chairs Manitoba Forward (www.manitobaforward.ca),  focused on sound public policy. Republished from the Winnipeg Sun online edition January 7, 2016.

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