Anyone who has arrived in a strange country or city for the first time knows that they are lost, and will remain so until they choose a specific destination from the myriad of possibilities. Having a specific destination forces the traveller to focus on results and to use available resources –taxies, public transportation, a walking stick — to get where they want to be, to see what they set out to see.
That bit of common-sense travel advice — focus on a specific destination to avoid aimless wandering — pretty much summarizes the grand vision Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen described to his party’s annual general meeting on the weekend.
Rather than aimlessly drifting on a burgeoning stream of federal handouts as the Doer government has done since arriving in office in 1999, Mr. McFadyen declared that he wants, within 20 years, to see Manitoba become a “have” province free of dependence on the rest of Canada to pay 40 per cent of its bills, and to double the population over that same time frame.
Both are hugely ambitious pledges, some will say as rash as was his promise to bring the Jets back to Winnipeg in the last provincial election, a pledge that Mr. McFadyen now admits was a mistake.
But bringing the Jets back to Winnipeg was about going back to what was. Becoming a have province, on the other hand, is about boldly going forward, striving for a future in which Manitoba can stand proudly on its own two feet. It’s about doing exactly what Premier Gary Doer refuses to do — choose a destination, plot a course to get there and be judged on the success or failure of the journey. Instead, Mr. Doer shuns vision beyond collecting and spending money, as was evident in the $9.8 billion budget last week, $3.6 billion of which was in the form of transfer payments from “have” provinces including both of Manitoban’s immediate next door neighbours. Dependence on the rest of Canada appears to have worked well for Mr. Doer, but increasingly, and certainly in the wake of the budget last week, there was widespread dissatisfaction from all quarters about the lack of vision, the lack of direction, the lack of commitment to anything in particular other than lowering expectations and then meeting them. It’s to the point where Manitoba is rewarded for being mediocre, for not trying. It is still not possible to see beyond next year even from the top of the current business cycle.
Mr. McFadyen cannot or will not say in detail how he will get Manitoba from here to there, and why should he at this early juncture. Better is to do as he also said he would, use the next two years to plot the course along which to travel. There is no shortage of possible routes, most of which have been repeatedly presented on the pages opposite. They range from cutting the public sector so as to get more in line with national per capita levels, to harmonizing the GST and PST while increasing electricity rates to market rates and using the revenues to create a competitive tax environment that grows wealth in Manitoba rather than accepting it handouts from elsewhere.
As they say, even a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a first step. Mr. McFadyen took that first bold step on the weekend.