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Biz group calls for expanded job cuts

The organization that represents Manitoba's top business executives says the Selinger government's promised civil service cuts -- 600 positions over three years -- don't go deep enough.

Given the size of the civil service and the state of its finances, the government's goal is "too modest," the Business Council of Manitoba said in a pre-budget submission to Finance Minister Stan Struthers this week.

The group said Manitoba can do much better without swinging a big axe. More positions can be removed simply through attrition and by redeploying personnel, it said.

Manitoba added 422 civil servants to the provincial payroll last fiscal year while racking up a record $999-million deficit. The number of government employees stood at 15,300 on March 31.

Just before Christmas, the Finance Department projected this year's deficit will hit $567 million -- $107 million more than it projected last spring. The government also admitted it would not be able to balance its books until 2016-17.

"We think that 600 (fewer civil service positions) is not enough to get us into balance," Jim Carr, the business council's president and CEO, said on Thursday.

The group did not offer a job-cut target of its own, but it said every government program should be scrutinized for its appropriateness and efficiency.

Core government spending -- projected to be $153.6 million higher this year than originally budgeted -- continues to be a problem, the business council said. And the province's net debt is rising steadily. It's now projected to hit 27.1 per cent of gross domestic product this year, the highest of any province west of Quebec.

On Thursday, Struthers reiterated the province's refusal to entertain deep job cuts in the provincial civil service, saying that would threaten core public services.

"We've set a target of 600 (fewer positions). We will continue to review the programming that we do to make sure that we at least hit that number and protect services along the way," he said.

In its submission to Struthers, the business council also weighed in on topics as varied as First Nations education and economic development in the north.

It decried what it called the "substandard education" in First Nations schools compared with public schools in the rest of Manitoba. And it demanded the province meet with the federal government and First Nations leaders to do something about it.

"It is a national and provincial disgrace," Carr said Thursday, on the quality of First Nations education.

The business group said that with the pipeline controversy in British Columbia over Alberta's desire to ship crude oil to the West Coast, Manitoba should explore the feasibility of Alberta oil moving via pipeline or railroad to Churchill.

It also urged construction of an all-weather road between Churchill and Rankin Inlet in Nunavut and said Manitoba should consider selling power to its northern neighbour.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

 

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