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.



Post-Secondary Education: For Elites Only?

Of course we knew that the Pallister government would be going after public education. Last week it held hearings on its Bill 31.  As this CBC blog explains, “Bill 31, introduced in March and debated this week at the Manitoba Legislature, will permit university tuition fees to increase up to five per cent, plus the rate of inflation, on an annual basis. This means that tuition could potentially double in the next 10 to 12 years.”

According to authors Hajer and Saltis, “In an era of high inequality and emboldened intolerance, saving money by reducing access to education for our most vulnerable citizens has the potential to compromise Manitoba’s long-term social and economic interests.”

In other words, fewer Manitobans will have access to post-secondary education.

Once again this government has shown how tone deaf it is to the values Manitobans hold. The blog ends with a poignant quote from Barack Obama:

“If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs in the 21st century.”


Housing the Homeless in Manitoba: What’s the Plan?

The National Conference on Ending Homelessness was held in Winnipeg October 25-27.

Minister Scott Fielding joined Mayor Bowman and Adam Vaughan, the federal government’s Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Social Development, to share with delegates what their governments are doing about homelessness.  While those in attendance were encouraged to hear that the federal government will soon release its housing strategy, there was less optimism about the role the Province of Manitoba will play.  Provincial governments have a central role in ensuring housing is available for low-income individuals and families.

Minister Fielding made no commitments.

So what exactly is his government doing to address homelessness?

As described in this article by Right to Housing Coalition Chair, Kirsten Bernas, the Province of Manitoba is on the path to reverse gains made in social housing in recent years.

And a recent KPMG Manitoba Fiscal Policy Review Report: Business Case Social Housing, lays out what we can expect from the Manitoba Government moving forward.  It makes a case for selling the supply of social housing, in spite of the evidence that shows privatization of social housing has led to increased homelessness.

Nonetheless, The Pallister government’s actions to date demonstrate a complete lack of regard for the evidence.  For example:

  • In May 2017 the Manitoba government declined funding for 10 emergency shelter beds for homeless women at Red Road Lodge.
  • In June 2017, the Manitoba government increased rental costs for some low-income earners living Manitoba Housing. This could see tenants paying an extra $720 a year.
    • Manitoba Housing has also eliminated choice of location from the application process.
  • In July 2017 Manitoba cut the Rent Assist benefit for over 7,000 families, reducing benefits by up to $1200 a year for some families.
  • In July 2017 the Manitoba government announces the sale of a multi-unit public housing complex at 185 Smith street. Privatization plans begin.
  • In August 2017 the Pallister government cancelled the Community Housing Improvement Initiative.  This $510,000 program distributed more that 200 grant in the last two years, contributing to the revitalization of low-income neighbourhoods.
  • On November 1st 2017, the Pallister government increased rents in public housing from 25% of household income to 28% of income. People living in public housing who already struggle to get by will need to make up the difference. That often means dipping into food budgets, greater reliance on charity, and fewer choices.

These actions give us an indication of the value the Pallister government places on ensuring that all Manitoban’s have a decent place to live.  And if the Manitoba government proceeds with recommendations put forward in the KPMG report on Social Housing, we anticipate that things are about to get far worse.



Beware of “Mixed-Model” Home Care in Manitoba

In September the Pallister Government announced its plans to implement a ‘mixed-model” home care system that smacks of privatization.

In the article The Politics of “Mixed-Model” Home Care, Mary Jean Handle and Christine Kelly, scholars in the Department of Community Services at the University of Manitoba warn that Manitoba’s home care services, described by Manitoba Health as “the oldest comprehensive, province-wide universal [home care] service in Canada” is not immune to the Pallister governments propensity to privatize.

Value Manitoba continues to track the Pallister governments policy moves and its impact on the lives of Manitobans. In doing so, we  link readers to a variety of resources including the analysis of experts like Handle and Kelly.

If you’ve come across analysis that we have missed, send it to Value Manitoba on Face Book.



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


Brian Pallister’s Healthcare Tax

There is so much wrong with Brian Pallister’s plan to introduce a healthcare “premium” that its hard to know where to begin.

It introduces a potentially regressive and significant tax by a government that has consistently criticized the previous government for increasing the PST by 1%.  The Pallister government has promised to reverse that increase before the end of its mandate yet the Premier now tells us he plans to introduce a tax that will be far more costly for Manitobans.

If Premier Pallister thinks that Manitobans won’t do the math to understand how the cost of a 1% sales tax compares with a healthcare tax, and what it will mean for their families, he’s clearly had too much Costa Rica sunshine.

We know that the Pallister government will lose approximately $300 million by reducing the PST by 1%. We don’t yet know what level of premiums different households will pay, however the total revenue generated will need to be large enough to offset the loss in PST revenue and whatever administrative costs are involved.  Our guess is that Pallister will want to maximize revenue from the premium, so looking to the levels in other jurisdictions is a good place to start.

This article in the Winnipeg Free Press shows how a 1% increase compares with the likely cost of healthcare premiums. There is…well…no comparison. For example, the additional 1% sales tax paid by a family of four earning $60,0000 is around $196.00 per year – for the entire household. An adult in British Columbia earning a net income of $42,000 pays a $900 premium annually. So a family of four with two parents pays $1800 per year.

This oped in the Winnipeg Free Press describes in more detail the regressive nature of healthcare premiums in Ontario and B.C. and why we should be concerned about going down this path in Manitoba.

Is a healthcare premium necessary?

Brian Pallister tells us the premium is necessary to pay for spiralling healthcare costs.  This article in the Winnipeg Sun shows us that spending on healthcare has not increased drastically as Brian Pallister says it has.  Spending has remained stable relative to GDP for the past 15 years.

It is also notable that the Premier, who has promised Manitobans a vote on major tax increases, has said that introducing a healthcare premium does not require a referendum because it isn’t an income or sales tax (how convenient).

What he has done instead is invite Manitobans to complete this online survey. Check it out and tell Premier Pallister what you think.  But first check out our followup post on this issue. Value Manitoba lays out the problems with “Manitoban’s Making Choices” survey.

Update: A recent poll by Probe Research shows that Manitobans are not buying it.  The poll shows that 70% of respondents are opposed to a health care tax.



Saving Lake Winnipeg: No value for money spent

The following post was submitted by Don Sullivan. He shows how the Pallister government’s policies to date show little regard for Manitoba’s beloved endangered lake.

Summers are short in Manitoba. Lake Winnipeg has long been the go-to place for many Manitoban’s.  A short drive from the city, campers and cottagers take full recreational advantage of all it has to offer during the long hot summer days.

Sadly, by mid July Lake Winnipeg beaches and waters have at times become a toxic blue/green algae cesspool. Increases in water temperature due to climate change, and government failure to act responsibly, are making this bad situation worse.

While Lake Winnipeg is located entirely within Manitoba, its vast Basin is the second largest in Canada and encompasses parts of four provinces and four American states.

The science has been clear as to the cause for these algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg — it is because of the nutrients, in particular phosphates, that are carried through the many rivers from the foothills of the Mountains in Alberta to the Red River that flows from the United State that feed into the lake.

The problem has gotten to the point that it has now garnered the attention of the Federal government. Starting in 2008 the Canadian federal government provided 38 million dollars towards the creation of the Lake Winnipeg Basin Initiative (LWBI) and an additional 25 million dollars in federal funding for this initiative was announced in July of this year.

The aim of the LWBI “…is to contribute to restoring the ecological health of Lake Winnipeg, reduce pollution from sources such as agriculture, industry and wastewater, and improve water quality for fisheries and recreation.”

So what has been learned about the nutrient loads – primarily phosphates – flowing into Lake Winnipeg from the LWBI after almost 10 years?  The LWBI evaluation report LWBI conducted by Environment Canada in June of 2017 states:

  • Approximately half of the phosphorus in Lake Winnipeg comes from the Red River, making it the largest source of phosphorus to the lake. Much of it originates mainly from agricultural runoff and municipal waste water. On average, the Red River contributes approximately 7150 tonnes of phosphorus per year to Lake Winnipeg. A full half comes from the United States.
  • In order to reduce or eliminate the toxic algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg the nutrient loads would have to be reduced, based on scientific modelling, 37% to 50% from current the level based on the most recent estimates of average annual phosphorus loads.
  • After 10 yrs and 36 million dollars the LWBI has only been able to reduce the nutrient loads in the Red River by less than 1%.

The LWBI has clearly identified what is causing the toxic algae blooms in Lake Winnipeg. The Manitoba government now needs to take the action necessary to reduce these causes.

Actions to date suggest that the Pallister government is not taking the problem seriously. In fact, its plans to lift  the moratorium on the expansion of large industrial hog barn operations and the spreading of manure on fields in Manitoba will no doubt have an impact on Lake Winnipeg. It will serve to compound the algae bloom problem.

In North Dakota two water diversion water projects will see Missouri river water diverted into the Red River and the poorly understood pollutants from these two diversion projects will eventually make its way into Lake Winnipeg, exacerbating an already growing nutrient problem.

A lot of taxpayer money is being spent on understanding the problems facing Lake Winnipeg. We now need our government to give us value for the money spent and take the necessary actions to reduce the causes of these toxic algae blooms.

Manitoba Housing units left vacant while homelessness soars

CBC recently published two stories about two different vacant buildings owned by Manitoba Housing that once housed some of our province’s most vulnerable citizens. These vacant buildings could house around 400 people. But one building, located on downtown’s Smith Street, has been sitting vacant for almost a year now, and the other for two years. The Province has not confirmed if any other buildings are currently unoccupied.


This news is alarming once you learn that 7,500 new rental housing units are needed just to house Winnipeg’s homeless population (see page 48 of The Plan to End Homelessness in Winnipeg). Further, the Pallister government has yet to make any commitment around building new social housing.

If the Province is not going to build any new housing, it should at least make use of its existing assets. The 373 bachelor units in the Smith property could be meeting the needs of one of the most under-served groups – single individuals tend to wait the longest for public housing as families are given first priority.

The Province says that both buildings require significant repairs. But one building was housing refugees as recently as nine months ago and the other property has already received $4.3M dollars in repairs. So it’s not clear what further work needs to be done to make the buildings habitable. Whatever it amounts to, the Province should take advantage of the current opportunity to leverage the federal dollars that are available for repairing and restoring social housing.

For now, the required investments are on hold. According to the CBC reports, the Pallister government says it is undergoing a provincial review of Manitoba Housing and that it is working on a ‘modernized provincial housing plan.’

So what can we expect to see in this new plan? Time will tell. Budget 2017 signaled that the Pallister government will have a much smaller capital program this year – meaning it is expected to invest fewer resources in building new and repairing existing Manitoba Housing units.

The Pallister government also reduced its transfer to Manitoba Housing by $20M. How will the corporation make up this difference? Will it sell its assets? Or raise rents for people who are in core housing need? Neither option is appealing.

The Province has already transferred its management responsibilities for 66 publicly-owned housing units in Winkler to a community-based non-profit, so we wouldn’t be surprised if the next step transferred ownership of the asset from Manitoba Housing to the non-profit. A recent audit of BC’s asset transfer program highlights how the program has put the long-term sustainability of affordable housing in BC at risk, and should act as a warning to the Pallister government.

So it sounds like the future of the two vacant Manitoba Housing units will remain unknown until the Province completes its review of Manitoba Housing. Meanwhile, thousands of Manitobans including women escaping domestic violence, youth exiting out of the care of Child and Family Services, and newly arrived refugees or asylum seekers will continue to be threatened with homelessness.