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Balancing act

“Now is not the time for a dramatic expansion of the public sector, nor for reckless cuts to key services.”

— Chief Justice Richard Scott, reading the speech from the throne on Monday.

In what was perhaps the most thrifty throne speech from the NDP since it was first elected 12 years ago, the government made fewer major spending announcements on Monday, while predictably pointing to the “imperiled” global recovery as the reason it could not spend as much of our tax money as it wanted to.

And yet, it wasn’t the throne speech that really set the tone for the direction of the provincial government next year, it was Premier Greg Selinger’s comments on Monday morning that were the most telling.

As The Canadian Press reported online yesterday, Selinger hinted that the NDP government was set to break its promise to balance the budget by 2014, even as it planned new investments in health care, environmental programs and other items.

“We’re giving ourselves more wiggle room to deal with reality, absolutely,” Selinger said. “I’m saying we want to make continual progress in being able to balance the books, and we have seen at other levels of government and across the country, that there have been some changes in those plans, given the softening of the global economy, including at the federal level.”

So, after all the hullabaloo about the government’s big promise to balance the books and be good financial stewards, the tax and spend NDP just don’t have the ability to make the necessary decisions to get us out of the financial mess we’re in.

Manitoba has not had a balanced budget since the 2009-10 fiscal year and this year the province expects to post a $448 million deficit. Public accounts released earlier this year showed the provincial debt at a staggering $14.5 billion for 2012, with that load likely to bloat a few billion more in 2013.

Certainly the NDP paid a little lip service to belt tightening. The government promised to reduce the size of the civil service through attrition by 600 positions over the next three years — through attrition — and vowed to halve the rate of increase in health spending. But that falls short of what was needed.

Premier Selinger pointed to the federal government’s own missed financial targets as an explanation for his government’s pending failure to do the same. But what he didn’t say was that the federal government has made several controversial spending cuts, some quite harsh in the public sector, in order to tackle the deficit.

While we’re not suggesting the NDP follow suit, we note the throne speech quote above as political hyperbole at its most cynical.

When a province is facing unprecedented debt levels and continued deficit budgets, how is this not the right time to make strategic, thoughtful spending cuts? If now isn’t the time, then when is? Mr. Selinger, not all cuts are evil or ill-advised.

At the same time, since when has it ever been a great idea to make “dramatic expansions” in the size of government operations? The more than $1 billion price tag in 2011 flood costs aside, isn’t that, in part, what got us into this financial mess in the first place?

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 20, 2012

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“Now is not the time for a dramatic expansion of the public sector, nor for reckless cuts to key services.”

— Chief Justice Richard Scott, reading the speech from the throne on Monday.

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“Now is not the time for a dramatic expansion of the public sector, nor for reckless cuts to key services.”

— Chief Justice Richard Scott, reading the speech from the throne on Monday.

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