There is a new optimism about Winnipeg in the air, but still I am feeling great sense of loss about our province these days. Manitoba’s former status has slipped.
Recently, the news got out that Saskatchewan’s manufacturing sales had actually exceeded those of Manitoba by $11 million last year. This is far worse than the Bombers losing to the Roughriders on a Labour Day weekend.
Those are not healthy numbers. They show an economy in decline compared to its closest neighbour. It is not that the government is unaware of our plight. Their answer to declining revenues was to raise the PST to eight per cent from seven, but their answer was wrong. The 14 per cent sales tax increase this year has already had a negative impact.
Not that you have to be an economist to read the signs. The streets are crumbling in our largest city; the boulevards are unsightly, the trees need pruning.
Manitoba Hydro appears rudderless, blindly pursuing an out-of-date and costly plan to meet an export market that no longer exists – our hydro bills are skyrocketing to pay for this.
Once a net contributor to government revenue, Hydro is now a contributor to increased taxes and electricity rates. In 2011, the crown corporation saw a decrease of 13.6 per cent in export sales, offset by – you guessed it – higher rates paid by homeowners and local business. Domestic “sales” increased by 6.8 per cent, money that came out of your pockets in the form of higher rates. Watch for an even bigger number in the next annual report.
Other costly mistakes and decisions are being taken. With the stroke of a pen and no competition, the health minister has committed Manitobans to 10 years of service from an Alberta helicopter ambulance company, STARS, that will cost more than $100 million with questionable over all benefit.
Government run enterprises are not doing well. Over all, government business enterprises earned just $713 million last year – most of that from lotteries – but even that amount was down from $807 million in 2010-11 and down ever further from 2007-08 when lotteries brought in $947 million. When even the sin bin is empty, there is not much to turn to.
While bad decisions are the order of the day, worse is a creeping arrogance. Witness the bullying of the Jockey Club last spring. The Jockey Club is fighting the legality of the government’s actions to reduce its VLT revenue in favour of the Red River Ex, an action that would cripple the operations of the independent non-profit organization.
Recent political disputes with Osborne House, the independent women’s centre, resulted in removal of its board and the “appointment” of a new administrator. It is unclear what jurisdiction the government, as just one of the funders, has over an independent board of this non-profit organization and its decisions, but it has dismissed the board and installed its own nominee as administrator.
These are just a few of the ugly issues that have arisen over the summer, but they point to a government that has lost its bearings. Clearly this government has been in office too long. It has developed too great a sense of entitlement and ownership. It no longer has the foresight to dream new dreams and carry the province to new heights.
Meanwhile, we are being further degraded amongst our provincial peers and that’s a worrisome thing.