As Manitobans brace for an election, they should realize we desperately need a different model, one that is far less political and dependent on government spending.
Since 1999, our NDP government has been on a happy spending spree. Provincial spending per person has increased 65% from $6,379 in 1999 to $10,535 in 2010, or 2.75 times faster than the inflation rate.
How was this spending explosion possible? First, the NDP lucked out with a dramatic expansion in federal transfer payments. In 1999, the feds paid 32% of Manitoba’s bills. Last year, transfers had ballooned to 37% of the provincial budget.
Second, and more disturbing given the world-wide stock market panic around over-borrowed governments in Europe, the NDP increased net provincial debt from about $10 billion in 1999 to $16 billion in 2010. So when you hear politicians talking about the need to “keep building” Manitoba and “not turning back”, take it with a big grain of salt.
It’s easy to stuff more money into old policy models by promising more nurses, cops, stopping privatization, and the like to buy votes. But only because the politicians are sending the bills to your kids.
World markets are not tolerating profligate politicians in Europe and the U.S.A. anymore. Manitoba politicians should not delude themselves that their own little sandbox can remain an exception. At some point, the clueless Tories in Ottawa will figure out that stuffing Manitoba and other have-not provinces with ever-rising transfer payments is a recipe for the big government mediocrity of the type so evident here.
With that in mind, let’s consider ideas that will decrease the overbearing politics that hold Manitoba behind. These are partially taken from a recent Frontier Centre publication by respected law professor Bryan Schwartz called Revitalizing Manitoba.
Health care: Promote innovation and reduce bureaucracy by making regional health authorities funders, not operators, of health facilities.
Education: Move governance and funding to a system that empowers local administrators, parents, teachers and children.
Local government: Adopt the so-called “new deal” for cities and give them a set percentage of a harmonized GST; remove provincial interference in public works processes and other areas of city jurisdiction.
Fair political competition: Ban partisan advertising by the provincial government. Eliminate spending limits on campaign spending. Pay politicians more to attract more talent and commitment. Give opposition caucuses more money for research.
Reform Manitoba Hydro: Cancel the west-side BiPole transmission line in favour of the cheaper, more secure east-side route to save hundreds of millions of dollars for better uses. Improve the company’s governance standards to increase openness, transparency and accountability to taxpayers.
There are many more ideas to get Manitoba out of its supplicant society model and have it live up to its great potential. All of these changes must be made within an overarching desire to wean Manitoba off federal transfer payments.
At least the Conservatives have been brave enough to mention in fleeting that our province can be a “have” province. It’s a start.