Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?
After 11 months in office, and NDP fear-mongering that preceded last year’s election for months, Premier Brian Pallister delivered his second budget on Tuesday. With respect, it wasn’t nearly as austere as one would have anticipated or, quite frankly, feared. In fact, the rumoured cuts were nowhere to be found.
After announcing workforce reductions at Manitoba Hydro in the range of 900 jobs, or approximately 15 per cent of the workforce, and reducing RHA’s budgets by roughly three per cent, it was reasonable to anticipate a rough ideological budget full of spending cuts, job cuts and tax breaks for the rich … or at least that’s what some former NDP members would have us believe.
The reality, as always, is considerably different.
From what I can discern in my studying of the Manitoba budget, the government appears to be moving in the proper direction. That is, slowly rightsizing the number of government-funded positions across the province while not negatively hampering services to such a degree that there would be widespread damage to the economy. This is not an easy balancing act.
If you recall the credit crisis of 2008-09, you may remember that governments worldwide chose between two different approaches to dealing with the financial crisis — austerity or spending.
The logic behind austerity was obvious — government revenues were collapsing and so, in order to avoid further deficits, government spending needed to be reined in. This approach was undertaken primarily in Europe. It was also supported by many business types who, from an ideological perspective, oppose all government spending.
By comparison, Canada’s Stephen Harper and U.S. Presidents Bush and Obama spent to prime the pump, including saving the automotive industry. They accepted the risk of moral hazard — bailing out businesses could reinforce the poor behaviour that led many businesses into trouble in the first place.
This moral hazard argument was very popular — and advanced by ideological conservatives and left-wingers who both hate big business, but for different reasons.
As we now know, the expansionary spending undertaken by Harper, Bush and Obama turned out to save our economies faster and to a greater degree than European economies. We did the right thing here, ideologies be damned. Austerity programs don’t work in the long term, just as bottomless, irresponsible spending sinks governments, too.
Pallister was elected a year ago with an overwhelming mandate — fix Manitoba’s finances. He made few promises beyond a commitment to get our financial house in order. In spite of former premier Greg Selinger’s countless promises, and the power of incumbency, the NDP was wiped out. Obviously, Manitobans had enough of the NDP’s philosophy and spending.
From what I read and heard this week, our province appears to be going in the right direction. Spending is slowing and being managed more sensibly. There are strategic investments being made, but there appears to be a new emphasis on getting value for dollars. This columnist has been accused, along with many others, of being a Pallister apologist. Rather, I view myself as a taxpayer advocate. Thoughtless spending is not providing value, regardless of what my left-wing friends may suggest. Regardless of what my friends may think, you cannot drown problems with money, although God knows the NDP tried and failed spectacularly.