Peppering his remarks with folksy stories, Premier Brian Pallister shied away from specifics during Thursday’s State of the Province address at the Keystone Centre.
Those looking for specific funding announcements were out of luck, although Pallister did offer broad insights regarding what might be coming down the pipe as the Progressive Conservatives enter their second year in power.
Hitting many of the same notes as he did during the previous day’s Manitoba Chambers of Commerce address in Winnipeg, Pallister spent much of the first half of his address lambasting the previous government.
During a subsequent media scrum, Pallister explained that his focus on the "massive mess" they inherited from the Manitoba NDP helped highlight the "foundational issues" they must deal with before they’re able to announce important projects he said that he’d like to see move forward.
When announcements do begin rolling out, he said that they’ll be strategically targeted toward specific results.
"We’re not going to be considering the political consequences, which is what most provinces do," he said. "We’re not looking to do projects for political gain, we’re looking to do them because they’re the right thing to do."
On education, Pallister said that he has a bias as it relates to the portfolio.
"Education infrastructure, innovative programming, leadership in education; this is where I want Manitoba to be."
Brandon is well-suited to benefit from this bias, Mayor Rick Chrest said after Pallister’s presentation, noting that the Wheat City "punches above its weight in terms of the number of facilities, amenities and institutions that we have."
Both Assiniboine Community College and Brandon University are waiting on funding announcements for projects alongside the Brandon School Division, whose leadership has long cited the need for a new school.
The City of Brandon is also waiting on a decision from the province regarding funding for Keystone Centre capital improvements, which Pallister did not mention despite Thursday’s speech taking place in the centre.
Coun. Lonnie Patterson (South Centre), who is also a Manitoba NDP provincial council member, cited this as a glaring omission alongside Pallister’s failure to mention the provincial government’s recently announced $809,565 commitment toward the planning and design of water treatment plant upgrades.
Patterson said Pallister "should take credit where credit’s due."
The lack of specifics in Pallister’s address didn’t appear to bother Chrest, who affirmed that he is a "complete optimist" as it relates to the direction of the province and Brandon’s ability to benefit from these broader changes.
Pallister at the very least alluded to "all of the things that we would include in our playbook," Chrest said, citing economic development as its centrepiece, adding that he’s confident the city can "count on the province’s support for continuing down the path."
Brandon Chamber of Commerce president Terry Burgess said that while Pallister’s speech "left questions as to what’s next for Brandon," it spoke well to his vision.
Summarizing Pallister’s key message as "we’re going to get where we need to get to, but it’s going to take time," Burgess said that the premier’s focus on managing costs, cutting red tape and developing the economy are all goals that are shared by the local chamber of commerce.
While Pallister citied economic potential in northern Manitoba during his remarks, Burgess said that he’d like to challenge him to consider Westman in a similar light. "We need to have that same sort of focus and energy toward economic development in Westman."
During his remarks on Thursday, Pallister also kept unions clearly in his sights, telling the Brandon Chamber of Commerce-hosted crowd that there are too many bargaining units and job descriptions.
"For 17 years, (union leaders) have been running the government of Manitoba and the NDP. Now, they just run the NDP," he said. "They have to adjust. They have to get with it."
As for the continued centralization of services, as we’ve seen through this week’s announced closure of 12 smaller Manitoba Hydro offices, including five in Westman, Pallister suggested that this is the path they’d continue to take.
"We’re looking more to amalgamate than to expand," he said, noting that while jobs are a "good" thing, private sector jobs are a "great" thing.
Adding more public sector positions to rural Manitoba might seem like a good thing in the short term, but he said that it is "not likely" a good fit for the long term.
"Private sector is sustainable, the size of government is not."
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