Manitoba Speech from the Throne 2017

As is typical of government speeches from the throne, the 2017 Manitoba speech contains a lot of platitudes and little more. It hits on topics of importance to many Manitobans including a promise of “better health care sooner” and building “a better place for all of us for generations to come”.  It gives a nod to mental health and addictions; childcare and early years education; services to women; “rebuilding” our economy; agriculture; “green plan”.

The Speech includes reference to the government’s commitment to develop a “Comprehensive Reconciliation Framework and Action Plan in the coming year. But then again, Manitoba’s “Path to Reconciliation Act” requires this.

The government promises to “introduce fundamental reforms to the legislation governing Manitoba’s child welfare system”.  Yet there is no mention of the recommendations outlined in the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry and in particular those aligned with poverty reduction. Commissioner Hughes dedicated the third and final phase of the Inquiry to examining the broader social and economic context of children in care and their families.

There is little at all about poverty reduction, and no mention of how the government will proceed with requirements outlined in Manitoba’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Act.  This article by Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett and this CCPA Fast Facts by MPHM’s Josh Brandon note this glaring oversight in a province where poverty continues to be persistent and deep.

Predictably, the government wastes a lot of ink blaming the previous government for all that ails us. But fear not, it promises to steer us on a “new course”…to “right the ship” and provides us with a handful of clues on how it will do this.

Public Service Cuts

It is no surprise that the “new course” builds from a foundation of privatization.  It warns of “a new financial reality” that “requires a new public service reality”–“a modern public service”.  This CBC blog sheds some light on how that reality is unfolding, the campaign of mis-information that is being waged against the public sector and how cuts will affect the economy.

This “modern public service” is essentially a smaller public service — the Speech boasts of having reduced senior management by 15% with promises to continue with “the next step of reducing the spans and layers of senior management …”.

So how will services be delivered once these so called “spans and layers” of public servants are eliminated?

A reduced public service means that some services will be delivered more slowly, some will be lost entirely and others will be delivered through the private sector, including for-profit as well as non-profit.

The non-profit sector has long played an important role in the delivery of social services, and there are many examples where non-profits make best sense.  The problem is that in most cases, people working in the non-profit sector are poorly paid, have few if any employee benefits in jobs that are not secure from year to year (even month to month). And this is likely to get far worse with the Pallister governments emphasis on measuring narrowly defined outcomes using a “value for money” approach.

In response to the issues raised by non-profit organizations, the previous government established the Non-Profit Organization (NPO) Strategy.  It is not yet clear if the Pallister government will continue with this multi-year funding strategy; organizations are waiting to hear.  This article describes why the Pallister government would be well advised to continue the Strategy. 

As they do in the KPMG Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review, Social Impact Bonds (SIB) figure prominently in the 2017 throne speech.  MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, is identified as Canada’s “leading social impact bond proponent’ and the governments SIB partner.  While the Speech notes in particular the governments interest in moving forward with a SIB related to kids in care, it also states its plans to move forward with SIBS in other areas.  This, despite a lack of evidence to show that SIBS have been successful anywhere they have been implemented, as described in this article and this paper.

There are plenty other tidbits that suggest this ‘new course’ will follow the one recommended in the KPMG Report. In fact, if you haven’t already looked at the Throne Speech, you may want to skip it and delve into the 9 volumes prepared by KPMG.  That will give you a better idea of where the Pallister Government plans to steer us.