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.

 

 

Students Say “NO” to the Pallister Government’s Tuition Hikes

Over the past two years, I have had the great pleasure of working with and representing students in Manitoba. While serving as the provincial chairperson of the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Federation of Students, I’ve heard many concerns, experiences, and anxieties from students.

My role, primarily, involves listening.

Listening to students at the University of Manitoba dealing with the impact of three years of sustained budget cuts. Listening to international students across the province concerned with rapidly rising differential fees. Listening to Indigenous students whose communities fear they will be forced to send fewer students to post-secondary due to rising fees.

Time and time again, I hear the same message: rising tuition fees will only create larger, more insurmountable barriers to accessing Manitoba’s post-secondary education system.

The only piece of legislation that provides some sort of tuition predictability and protection is now being drastically altered. On Monday, the government announced that the cap would now be increased to allow tuition increases of five per cent above the rate of inflation.

Hiking tuition fees would be a step backwards for Manitoba.

When students gathered on the steps of the legislature on Nov. 2, demanding our federal and provincial governments take decisive and meaningful action on the elimination of tuition fees, provincial finance minister Cameron Friesen said we were “fear-mongering.” Not wanting to add to our fears of spiked tuition, Friesen said that “we [the government] understand that affordability matters to students and Manitobans.”

If students truly had nothing to fear and the province understood that affordability mattered to students and their families, it would immediately protect and expand current legislation on post secondary tuition to include all students, including international, professional, and college students, all of whose tuition remains unpredictable and unregulated. It is unjust that these students’ education remains so volatile because of sporadic fee increases.

Small increases to scholarships and bursaries are not enough, especially in light of tuition hikes. Manitoba needs a comprehensive, holistic plan to open the doors of post-secondary education to anyone who wants to attend, beginning with ensuring the provincial tuition cap is applied to all students.

Post-secondary education has immense benefits for our economy, culture, and society at large. An educated society is healthier, reducing costs for the health care system and increasing societal well-being. Education reduces poverty and decreases dependence on social assistance. Education leads to lower levels of crime and increased participation in arts and culture. It will only serve to improve our province to make accessible education a priority.

For me, it has been both inspiring and downright depressing to hear the stories of the high cost of post-secondary education for Manitoba students. I would recommend the government listen to the diversity of students studying in the province, and hear the stories of what hiking the fees will mean for the future for students and for Manitoba.

Fortunately, Manitoba students are listening – to each other.

We are organizing, ready to say no to tuition hikes and yes to a positive vision for education in this province. Every Thursday, from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. in the U of M Arts Student Lounge, students are meeting and planning for action. Anyone is welcome to join. Together, students can defeat fee hikes and education cuts and build a province that values education for all.

Michael Barkman is the chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba.

Wow! Brian Pallister really IS running with scissors!

Brian Pallister has returned from his tropical paradise well rested with scissors sharpened.

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Value Manitoba is trying to keep a tally of the measures that (supposedly) will make Manitoba the “most improved province in Canada”.  It’s a bit of challenge though. The attack on working people and front-line services has escalated and announcements of cuts are coming fast and furious.

Here is what we’ve got so far.

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”

In addition to the above, Brian Pallister has made his intentions clear – he aims to freeze wages and open up (previously negotiated and agreed upon) collective agreements, in the face of existing court decisions.  This could mean wage, benefit and pension cuts to teachers, nurses and government workers, as well as mandatory reduced work with legislation similar to that which gave us ‘Filmon Fridays’ back in the 1990s.

Capital projects cut:

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 Manitobans. There are now over 15000 names on childcare wait lists, up from 12000 just a few years ago.

Community services:

Many community non-profit service providers have yet to receive confirmation of continued funding.  As described in this CCPA Fast Facts, these 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.

Newcomers:

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”.  In case you’re wondering, that’s code for cuts to government supports. Stay tuned for more on Pallisters ‘plan’ (or lack of) to address poverty.

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.

Manitobans better brace themselves, as there are likely many more so-called  ‘improvements’ coming in what is increasingly looking to be the 2017 austerity budget.