Brian Pallister’s Scissors: The Sad Saga Continues

In an earlier post Value Manitoba listed a number of changes made by the Pallister government in recent months.  In this post we build on that list, further bringing into question who will benefit from Brian Pallister’s vision of “the most improved province in Canada.”


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The attack on working people and universally accessible front-line services continues.

Jobs:

  • Labour legislation has been weakened—worker protections gutted and unions are being undermined
  • Minimum wage has been frozen indefinitely while cost of living continues to grow
  • Good jobs are being cut:
    • 112 senior government positions have been eliminated
    • 900 jobs to be cut from Manitoba Hydro
    • 15% of the workforce at Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries as well as Manitoba Public Insurance to be cut  “as a starting point”

Brian Pallister previously made clear his intentions to freeze wages and open up (previously negotiated and agreed upon) collective agreements.  He seems to have backed off on opening existing agreements, but he will be interfering in workers’ right to engage in collective bargaining around wages.  The new plan outlined in Bill 28, will allow the Province to freeze wages for two years, and cap increases to.75 and 1.00 in years 3 and 4.

Mandatory reduced work with legislation similar to that which gave us ‘Filmon Fridays’ back in the 1990s, has yet to materialize, but we should keep a watch on this.

Capital projects cut:

As previously noted, this is another big hit for our economy. Seniors, the sick, and skilled trades people are particularly hard hit when previously approved projects such these are cancelled:

  • Lac Du Bonnet personal care home
  • Thompson Northern Consultation Clinic
  • St. Vital Primary Care Access Clinic
  • St. Boniface Blood Bank
  • The Pas Primary Care Clinic
  • New CancerCare Manitoba facility

Child Care:

Families and the economy both suffer when safe and affordable childcare is not a priority. Wait lists for childcare in Manitoba are again on the rise. Yet the Pallister governments  freeze on capital grants means that over a dozen not-for-profit organizations cannot proceed with their plans to expand to meet the needs of Manitoba families. There are now over 15000 names on childcare wait lists, up from 12000 just a few years ago.

In March the Pallister government announced the creation of 739 new childcare spaces. However, many of these spaces were previously announced by the NDP government in 2015 and 2016.  Polling has shown that childcare continues to be  a priority for Manitobans so it will be important to watch how the Pallister government responds to continued calls for universally accessible childcare.

Community services:

Many community non-profit service providers have yet to receive confirmation of continued funding.  As a result, some have begun to layoff employees. For example, LITE recently laid off the Coordinator of the Social Purchasing Portal (SPP), a program that created 49 jobs last year with the $40,000 the Province invested. That’s seems pretty good value for money at $800/job.

As described in this CCPA Fast Facts, community-based non-profit organizations provide critical services—yes the kinds of front line services Brian Pallister promised to maintain—to some of the most vulnerable Manitobans. And they do so at a relatively low cost.  One would think that this form of service delivery would be ideologically appealing to the Pallister government (provided mainly by non-unionized low wage workers) so maybe, just maybe, these services will escape Pallister’s Scissor Hands.

New Canadians:

See our post by Anthony Huynh regarding changes to Manitoba’s Provincial Nominee Program that will make it increasingly difficult for “skilled worker” applicants wishing to come to Manitoba.

Poverty:

What we’ve heard from Pallister so far leads us to believe that there will be more reliance on what Pallister describes as “generous Manitobans”, and mainly through  Social Impact Bonds. In case you’re wondering, that’s code for cuts to government supports and greater reliance on charity. Stay tuned for more on Pallisters ‘plan’ (or lack of) to address poverty.

Privatization

Talking about Social Impact Bonds reminds us that these are also a way to bring in more private sector players: Public Private Partnerships (P3s). Bill 24 (explained below) which is ostensibly meant to ‘cut red tape’ is removing P3 legislation brought in by the last government. This link explains more; suffice to say here that removal of the legislation will make contracts with the private sector less transparent so tax payers will not know if they’re getting value for their money. Here’s a spoiler: they’re not.

Education:

So far the Pallister government has revealed a couple of things that cause concern.  It plans to remove the cap on class size, making it more difficult for teachers to provide quality education in increasingly complex and diverse classrooms.  It also plans to boost tuition fees upward of 5%, making post secondary education less accessible to Manitoba students.  The Pallister government also recently announced the cancellation of a $6.7 million expansion of the Kelvin High School Gym, a capital project for which the community worked hard to raise $1.2 million as a demonstration of its commitment to the project.

Healthcare:

There are a number of issues to watch on the healthcare front.  On April 7th the Province announced the closure of 3 emergency rooms in Winnipeg and Minister Goertzen promises the “biggest healthcare revamp in a generation”.  It is notable that Wnnipeg’s most vulnerable will be particularly hard hit by changes—putting further pressure on the Health Science Centre as the closest emergency room available to individuals living in the inner city and north of the railroad tracks.

One also can’t help but wonder if the expansion of  private for-profit clinics offering fee for service home visits by Nurse Practitioners, does not figure prominently in the Pallister government’s plan. Rather than focusing on service for those who can afford to pay, the provincial government should ensure that nurse practitioners are working within the non-profit system to ensure that all Manitobans have access to their much needed services. We’ll need to keep a close eye on further private for profit healthcare initiatives as the Pallister government continues to ‘test’ what it can get away with.

Environment and Sustainable Development:

Under the guise of cutting “red tape”, in one short year, the Pallister Government continues to undercut hard won gains with respect to Environmental protections:

  • Protected lands (Islands in Lake Winnipegosis) protected for the last 15 years, opened up for mineral exploration.
  • Woodland caribou -missing federally required deadlines for the completion of action plans under The Species At Risk Act — Instead of 15 caribou action plans in place by October, the government says they’ll get five done in 2018.
  • Refusing to sign the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, and using it as blackmail in its misguided hold-out on the Heath Accord.
  • Lack of constitutionally mandated consultation with First Nations communities.
  • Changes to regulations for hog producers building barns and sewage lagoons, and less onerous reporting conditions for public and semi-public drinking water suppliers.
  • This reference explains how Bill 24,  the Red Tape Reduction and Government Efficiency Act, will negatively affect water quality in Manitoba. This “omnibus bill” affecting 15 statutes, will amend the  Drinking Water Act, loosening the  monitoring and regulatory regime for water. Changes to the regulation of livestock pens and manure management have may worried about an increase in water contamination.

Having changed the name of the Department from “Conservation and Water Stewardship” to “Sustainable Development”, this government would be well advised to actually read its own Sustainable Development Act and its various guidelines and regulations. The Act requires significant Environmental protection and balancing any development with a healthy environment. So far all Manitobans see is a dangerous and a lop-sided imbalance.

This is just a taste of what’s to come. In the days following Tuesday’s budget, there are likely to be many more so-called  ‘improvements’ revealed.