Except for that huge snow dump in December and January, it has not been too bad a winter on the Canadian prairies, but spring could bring lots of bad news, especially for people who work in the public sector. Alberta’s troubles are well known as they await the painfully slow recovery in the price of oil. The government balance sheet is no better in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and Brian Pallister and Brad Wall may well be on the verge of making things worse.
Both men are at least three years away from the next provincial election, and that often signals a ‘bad news’ budget. Both are fairly traditional Conservatives, and when faced with deficits and debt, the totally predictable response is to go for austerity in the public sector.
When Brian Pallister was elected to govern Manitoba last April, after his party had been out of office for almost 17 years, he promised that waste would be found without hurting frontline services like healthcare and education.
But as the deficit numbers continued to climb, both governments came to realize that significant savings would only be found by opening up existing contracts with thousands of public servants, and giving them days off without pay. The Premier himself said “Hey, it’s great in the summertime, and it’s better than a layoff any old day!”
At the same time Pallister cancelled close to a billion dollars in capital spending for health care, including $300 million for cancer! Is nothing sacred?
Don Leitch is head of the Business Council of Manitoba. He also spent several years as Clerk of the Executive Council under the Tories at the legislature. He noted wisely the other day that what Pallister and Wall are doing may turn out to be counter-productive. The economy of both provinces depends heavily on the public sector. If you slow it down too much, it affects all of us.
Do you see why economics is still called the dismal science?
I’m Roger Currie