What kind of “value” do we value?

The Pallister government has made its “value for money” audit the centerpiece of its first months in office. Having promised to cut government expenses, they have been delaying funding decisions – to the point of threatening the survival of many programs and services – in the name of this all-powerful review that will apparently determine the policies of our still-new government.

“Value Manitoba” is a collective of Manitobans from many walks of life who share concerns about how the Manitoba Conservatives plan to define “value”, and we worry that many marginalized, vulnerable, and precarious lives will be dropped from the equation and left behind.

We have cause to be concerned: when Pallister was asked, for example, about how he would fix the many challenges facing Child and Family Services, his simplistic reply was that tax cuts would create more jobs for parents. Anyone with any understanding of the child welfare system knows 1) that trickle-down economics consistently fails to help the most needy, and 2) that the CFS crisis is the product of a deep-seated, complex web of colonialism, poverty, substance abuse, and disempowerment, not merely a lack of job opportunities. Our new premier’s narrow economic perspective ignores these realities, and will make the lives of children and families involved in CFS worse, not better.

So it seems likely that in looking for value for Manitobans, the Tory government might risk passing over some pretty important Manitoban values. Values like compassion, collective effort, and a desire to see one another succeed.

So, here we are to audit the audit.

We hope that it will recognize the amazing value found in harm-reduction programs, in “housing first” initiatives, in providing pathways to employment for the severely disadvantaged, and in education and community support programs for women in poverty. All have been demonstrated to save a remarkable amount of money in reduced health care and policing costs while also boosting incomes and increasing productivity. All offer great value for money.

Will the Manitoba Conservatives and their auditors bring a holistic lens to the concept of “value”? One that reflects all our values and will value all of us? We shall see.