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.

 

 

Decoding KPMG’s Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review: Privatization

In a previous post we provided an overview of KPMG’s Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review (MFPR).  Here we focus on a theme that runs throughout the report –  privatization.

Department Input? 

But before we do that, we want to provide a bit of context to how the KPMG report was shaped.  KPMG was selected through a competitive bidding process and was awarded $740,000 for its work.  Its central task was to conduct a review and identify “potential areas of opportunity for efficiency and cost savings across core government departments (except Health, which will come as a separate report).

The KPMG report emphasizes the review and recommended actions were developed in  collaboration with government departments – namely the “Manitoba Team.”  While this would indicates broad involvement of government workers, this is not the case.  The report notes that it conducted 35 interviews, involving over 140 senior government officials, including central agency staff (Executive Council, Treasury Board Secretariat, and Priorities and Planning Secretariat), all Deputy Ministers of the 11 departments and departments’ Executive Financial Officers and Executive Management Teams.

While we don’t have specific information about who was interviewed, we do know that those involved will have been either politically appointed staffers and/or managers who are wise to know who butters their bread. And since a major objective is to control the growth of department expenditure (including “flattening of management”), those involved will have been keen to demonstrate they are onside with the Government’s mission.

Front line workers were NOT among those called upon for input. So make no mistake, the KPMG report is an ideologically driven document designed to justify the Pallister government’s austerity mission, including the elimination of at least 1200 positions..

And a big part of that plan is privatization.

Asset Management

One way that KPMG paves the way for privatization is through its prescriptions for Asset Management. The report identifies “Asset Management Planning and Rationalization” as one of its 12 “Areas of Opportunity.”   Phase 1 of the Report notes the “potential reduction in type/number of assets under Provincial Ownership.”  Not much more is said than this in Phase 1, however further reference to the selling-off of government assets can be found in MFPR Phase 2 report “Business Case-Social Housing” . We’ll have more on the implications of the KPMG report for social housing on a future post but suffice it to say that what we need is MORE not LESS social housing and KPMG report recommends the Government “transfer significant housing stock to private and community based providers where there will be no guarantee that it will remain affordable for low-income families.

Privatization ‘code’

Also look for language that is ‘code’ for privatization.  Sprinkled throughout the report you’ll find  strong hints of privatization. From more obvious statements like “transfer to the private sector” and “outsourcing of service delivery to the private sector”, to more subtle ideas such as “partnership opportunities” to reduce costs; “alternative” service delivery; and the less known private sector “solutions” such as “innovative approaches to funding” such as  “Social Impact Bonds” in  education, social service and justice  sectors.

Future State Opportunities?

If you are not up for reading the 270 page Phase 1 Report and the hundreds of pages in the 8 supplementary reports, you may want to check out the section titled “Future State Opportunities” (p. 100).  Here you will find the “Fiscal Performance Review Framework” that KPMG recommend for use across Government. They propose use of this framework to effectively change the “way all spending is looked at”.

You’ll also find a number of recommended practices that government departments are already doing, as well as an overview of “areas of opportunity” that may give you hints of what is to come (p 139) and how privatization may seep into service delivery.

But you’ll also find this useful tidbit that may come in handy when assessing the real “value” of the Pallister government’s policies and practices going forward. On page 113 of the report KPMG describes ‘value’ as including, “Financial, Social and Perceived” value.  We interpret KPMG’s definitions of ‘vale’ as the “math” the “heart” and the “spin”.

  • The Math
    • “Financial and economic value : the quantitative and tangible financial and economic value that is created as a direct result of programs/services based on revenue brought in, expenditures managed, or a return on an investment.”
  • The Heart
    • “Social value: the long-term value created by displacing costs that would normally be borne if social issues are not addressed, e.g the social costs of poverty, etc.”
  • The Spin
    • “Perceived value: the worth of programs/services in the minds of Manitobans, which is as important as the other dimensions of value. Since the recipients of programs/services are not generally aware of the cost, value to them may have more to do with how they perceive the results of the programs/services relative to others.”

The  KPMG report is clearly focused on the math – and in the short term. Selling assets and offloading services may help the Pallister balance the books in the short-term, but what about the long term implications of passing the keys and control to those motivated by profit?

We know that the Pallister government will also be focused on the ‘spin’.  It will need to find a way to convince Manitobans that massive spending cuts and privatization gives Manitobans the “most improved province” they were promised.

But what about the “heart” and how does this relates with the long term “math”? In further posts we’ll look at the social implications of the Governments obsession with cutting costs and raising revenue by selling  assets, privatizing services, and cuts to spending in areas, like education, that bring value to Manitoba.

 

 

 

KPMG’s Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review

For those of us who value a Manitoba built on a foundation of compassion and social and economic fairness, the recently released Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review is deeply troubling.  If implemented by the Pallister government, the $740,000 KPMG Report will have far reaching, and in some cases irreversible implications for Manitoba.  The report’s recommendations include job cuts, selling-off social housing, reducing access to services for disabled adults, including those with intellectual disabilities, cuts to post-secondary education tuitions hikes, elimination of interest free student loans, and references to a host of yet to be determined “cost savings”.

Manitoban’s should be very concerned with what is sure to be the Pallister Government’s playbook going forward.  There is a lot to unpack as we sift through the multi volume report. Here are a few highlights that give us an indication of what we are up against.

The Review describes 6 areas of opportunity: Reduction of Select Tax Credits, Rationalization from Reorganization, Procurement Modernization, Real Estate Rationalization, Reducing Direct Support to Businesses, School and Post-Secondary Funding (initial phase focused on post-secondary funding).  The Report identifies 6 “transformational areas” with opportunity for “cost improvement” including:  School and Post-Secondary Funding, Families: Organizational and Process Transformation, Asset Management Planning and Rationalization, Justice System Reform, Capital Project Management and Delivery, and Review of Agencies, Boards and Commissions.

After laying out a vague series of cost cutting recommendations that lay the groundwork for privatization,  the report provides a “Summary of Advice for Consideration” that includes “Key Communication Points.” This advice makes clear the serious limitations of a review that focuses solely on finances with no regard for the public good. KPMG describes being tasked with conducting “a Fiscal Performance Review to identify potential areas of opportunity for efficiency and cost improvement in all departments with the exception of Health to “gain better control over the growth in core government spending, with better value for money and allocation of fiscal resources without adversely impacting front line services. It notes $7.3 billion of “in-scope” spending for the review.  The report describes a collaborative process including KPMG, Treasury Board Secretariat and central agencies, with input from departments.

It is notable that KPMG points to a short timeframe for its  assessment, leading to the immediate focus on identifying significant short-term cost improvement opportunities, as well as other material long term opportunities which should be considered going forward. This is a big red flag.  It tells us that KPMG is proposing significant short-term cost savings with no regard for long term impact.

In the report, KPMG describes a Fiscal Performance Review Framework intended to provide a consistent, systemic framework (principles, guidelines, criteria) for looking at spending and evaluating initiatives and programs across departments and branches. It speaks to the need for a results-based approach with a better focus on results and value for taxpayer dollars, yet it makes cost-cutting recommendations without indicating how results have or will be assessed.

The Report boasts of finding several areas of “opportunity” exceeding $50 million in potential cost “improvement” opportunities in 2017/18. It goes on to note a “second-wave”  of cuts in over $50 million.  KPMG, the governments appointed Steering Committee and Manitoba’s Treasury Board have targeted six key areas for immediate action.

Other than a brief mention of “social value” and a few buzzwords like “citizen centric”, “highest value to taxpayers” and a promise for “better care, better education, and a clean, green environment”, the aim of the Review is clearly aligned with Premier Pallister’s mission to dismantle and privatize Manitoba’s public services.

The Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review is narrowly and unabashedly focused on cuts at any cost.  There is no assessment of the long term social and economic impact of the transformational shifts in policy that it recklessly prescribes.

We’ll learn more as we delve deeper into the KPMG report, but this we know for certain. The Manitoba Fiscal Performance Review has little to do with improving Manitoba for Manitobans, and everything to do with Premier Pallister’s ideological mission.

Stay tuned for further posts as we continue to examine Manitoba’s Fiscal Performance Review

 

Where’s the Value in Brian Pallister’s HealthCare Plan?

Despite promises to maintain frontline services, the Pallister government has managed to make healthcare accessible to fewer and fewer Manitobans.  From closures to emergency rooms and urgent care clinics in low income neighbourhoods, to the elimination of in-hospital physiotherapy and occupational therapy and the closure of the Victoria Hospital Mature Women’s Centre, it’s near impossible to imagine where the value is in the Pallister governments health care plan.  

While it’s a challenge to keep track of the relentless attack,Value Manitoba will attempt to do just that.  The following is a list of changes and cuts we’ve identified to date; we’re not offering any deeper analysis here although we do provide links to various media articles, opinion pieces to provide context. No doubt as time marches on, there will be much more to say about how these cuts are affecting Manitobans, and we will endeavour to weigh in as we learn more.

We will update the list as more changes/cuts are announced. Here is what we have so far.  

September 2016

November  2016

December  2016:

January 2017:

  •  The Health Minister announces that the St. Boniface QuickCare Clinic on St. Mary’s Road will close.
  • Manitoba Home Care Program name change raises concerns about privatization

February 2017:

  •   Pallister cancels over (what they claim) is $1 billion in health care infrastructure projects.
  •   Cancelled projects include:
    • A new facility for CancerCare Manitoba ($300M);
    • A personal care home in Lac Du Bonnet (est. $32M) and a complete turn around on his campaign promise to provide 1200 new personal care beds for Manitoba’s aging population;
    • St. Vital primary care ACCESS clinic ($4.7M);
    • The Pas primary care clinic ($3.5M);
    • A new facility for Pan Am Clinic;
    • Concordia Wellness Centre; and
    • An international centre for dignity and palliative care.

March 2017:

April 2017:

May 2017:

June 2017:

July  2017:

August 2017:

Position deletion letters to be sent to 500 nurses.  Will they be moved to “new jobs” as promised? And what will those jobs look like?

September 2017:

Premier Pallister considers health care premium

Health Sciences Centre restructures – eliminates healthcare aides and support staff positions

October 2017:

Misericordia Hospital closes 

Brian Pallister promises no health care premium in “current term”

November 2017:

Funding to Personal Care Homes cut

Province freezes funding to City for Ambulance services

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.