As outlined in this article by Shauna MacKinnon and Talia Syrie, there is a growing resistance across the political spectrum to Premier Pallister’s pathetic COVID-19 plan. If you can call it a plan. It’s more like a strategy to off load as much responsibility as possible onto other levels of government and Manitobans themselves. All in the name of supporting our “Manitoba family”.
He has been quite skilled at riding on the federal governments coattails. The federal government has rapidly rolled out a series of initiatives to support Canadians during this unprecedented pandemic. The idea is that the Provincial governments do what they can to complement those initiatives to minimize the health, social and economic impact of the pandemic.
But as many have said, Manitoba’s Premier has put “little on the table”, The Manitoba government lists a number of initiatives for individuals and businesses, but even a light scratching of the surface reveals that there isn’t much value added and whole lot at risk. The Premier has been quite clear his intentions to scale up and speed up his austerity agenda.
Not surprising, the Left has been highly critical. In this article by Lynne Fernandez and Jessie Hajer show what the impact of public service cuts will have on the economy. Spoiler alert: it is dismal. In this article, University of Manitoba Economists Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson offer up a bit of a history lesson. They show how governments who have chosen austerity measures in past crisis have also had dismal consequences.
Although coming from it at different angles, both progressive Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett, and the conservative Tom Brodbeck have been critical of the Premier. This column by Lett and this by Brodbeck are a couple of examples, but it would be well worth your time to checkout the Winnipeg Free Press, CBC and other local media analysis and opinion pieces. Literally nobody is buying Pallister’s austerity approach.
The Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) the Manitoba Government Employees Union (MGEU), and other labour groups have called the Premier out for trying to ram through an austerity agenda by pitting Manitoban’s against each other and providing inacurate information about the state of Manitobas finances. Even the CIBC has ‘fact checked’ the Premier’s claims, showing that Manitoba is NOT the most indebted province in the country.
Public sector unions have raised serious concerns about the impact of a proposed reduced work week for public servants and the ramifications this will have for the economy.
Advocacy groups like Make Poverty History Manitoba and Right to Housing Coalition have been critical of the Pallister’s in-action. Most recently the Province announced that Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) recipients qualifying for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will continue to receive some benefits, but the CERB will be considered income and clawed back from EIA. That means those on EIA who receive the CERB won’t receive a penny more at a time when their costs have increased. This is a mean-spirited, cynical cost saving measure that runs counter to the intentions of the federal governments efforts. The federal Minister for employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, urged all provinces April 13 to exempt CERB payments from social assistance clawbacks “to ensure vulnerable Canadians do not fall behind.”
But most surprising of all is the response from conservatives. The business community is publicly calling for the Premier to back-off on the cuts. In this article, a self-described card-carrying Conservative professor at the University of Manitoba Asper Business School called Pallister’s austerity measures “dangerous: and in this article, business heavy- weight Sandy Riley echoed concerns about austerity at this time. Albeit less feisty than Riley, this article, by outgoing University of Winnipeg Chancellor Bob Silver and incoming Chancellor Barb Gamey, both highly respected business leaders reiterated what others have said about the importance of funding for universities.
At time of writing we are waiting to hear what the Premier will decide on how much he will cut the public sector, crown corporations and post secondary education. As noted by others, he remains ideologically focused on cutting Manitoba’s deficit, shrinking the public sector, penalizing people living in poverty, and decimating the education sector.
Premier Pallister’s austerity agenda was putting Manitoba on a downward spiral before COVID-19. But Pallister is now playing a dangerous game during a dangerous time as he digs Manitoba into a hole that we may never climb out of.