By Graham Lane
Winnipeg Sun, July 28, 2017
This past week saw Manitoba’s debt downgraded for the second time under the PC Government, from “AA” Very strong capacity (when they took over) to – “A“ Strong capacity but somewhat susceptible to adverse economic conditions and changes in circumstances.
Predictably the Pallister Government blamed the NDP. While it is true that the NDP left the Province in a financial mess – a billion dollar budget deficit, massive debts and a disastrous Hydro expansion – it is also true that the NDP were voted out because Manitobans rejected its former tax, spend and risk policies.
Oddly, the PC Government budget projections see them running four years of annual deficits totalling $2.95 billion — 26% higher than the last 4 years of the NDP’s tenure. How is it that in a province where citizens value every nickel and have a reputation for frugality, taxpayers find themselves captives of not one but now two spendthrift governments? Where is this new fiscally responsible PC party – the party that was to set us on the right track for tax cuts and balanced budgets?
The deficit ballooned to more than $800 million during the last year of Selinger’s reign, an election year, up from only $422 million the year before. Only in their government’s 4th year, do the PCs expect to get below $700 million. Even for the last year of the party’s current term they do not project getting anywhere close to having a balanced budget. And, this ‘sorry’ projection includes the PCs stiffing Hydro ratepayers with explosive rate hikes inflicted by government and Hydro blunders.
Manitoba voters did not vote for this. We voted for a change. We voted for reduced government spending and proper stewardship over Hydro, not for the maintenance of the status quo.
The PCs won in a massive landslide – the largest in the Province’s history. In case they didn’t notice, that was a mandate for change. Other than mandated cuts of bloated management and staff at the Crown corporations and efforts being tried in the Health Department, it is impossible to find any major real change since the PCs were elected 18 months ago.
Nothing of substance is happening in Education, Child and Family Services, Agriculture, Infrastructure spending – etc. etc. We have seen some minor political statements (scrapping of maximum class room sizes in some grades), but nothing transformative of any consequence has happened in any department or Crown corporation that could not have happened under an NDP Government.
Without substantial and immediate action, there will be further credit downgrades. With each downgrade, the cost of borrowing rises. Combined with rising interest rates, we could see Manitoba’s debt cost escalating out of control. At a time when the province is desperate for fiscal prudence, the ruling government is terrified of an unsophisticated WFP and CBC media and an opposition in disarray – for fear of criticism of any cuts.
The NDP warn the PC government against any cuts to government spending. Even minor cost savings are represented as if the world is falling apart. This, even though Manitoba has a notoriously high-spending, low-performing public sector across the board.
Who is going to stand up for the people of Manitoba? How much further into debt must the province fall before a politician is brave enough to do something about it?
Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).
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