Welcome back, hopefully the holidays were good to you and you were able to find that "whatsit" you always wanted nestled under the tree on Christmas morning, and if it failed to make an appearance there I hope the rush of Boxing Day deals brought it home for you.
As many clamoured to take in all the holiday merriment, provincial NDP Finance Minister Stan Struthers found himself in a quasi giving mood recently as it was announced the management for many smaller government resource offices and institutions in rural Manitoba would be relocated to larger centres further to the announcement of smaller RM offices shutting their doors as a cost-saving measure.
The news came as this government continues to try to align itself with budget responsibilities put in place as campaign promises, at the same time already announcing they would not see balanced government coffers prior to the end of their tenure in the current election cycle. The announcement included a comment from Struthers proclaiming that the changes meant reduced expenditures by closing many of these offices. The belief being it furthers the operational capacities of the positions by streamlining the jobs, with no layoffs as the positions would be moved larger centres.
The news, welcomed by some seems to further align the party with an urban centric approach, a move to further change the makeup of the province albeit at the sake of another rural Manitoba institution.
With this most recent choice to relocate many of these positions such as those in the fisheries, resources and administration to larger centres, the thinking is becoming more and more evident, move the balance of the jobs to larger centres including Winnipeg where the balance of the votes are.
You have to wonder if an announcement down the road will be coupled with a photo opportunity to coincide with the opening of a new office as part of an economic stimulus in the province. Secondly, it will be most likely timed as we creep closer to another provincial election as a measure to further show what government is doing for the people of Manitoba.
I do agree with cost saving and anything the government can do without sacrificing essential services to help align the province with balanced budgets is a positive step, but this one does smack a bit of more than a simple cost-saving measure. It takes some very simple math to realize our population is urban centred and if the average voter there can see a commitment to their community by way of jobs or government spending than that in most circles equates to marking an X on the ballot box where it matters, it is a time tested tradition of governments everywhere. It must get tougher and tougher though for the scattered group of rural NDP members to justify these moves as prudent or positive to their constituents, as well paying jobs leave the communities they serve. This announcement would be increasingly tough for MLAs like Struthers who now has to justify to his constituents in Dauphin why taking jobs and services away from his or neighbouring communities is a good thing.
The true and most lasting effect of moves like the recent announcement is families leaving these small rural centres in search of employment, life and opportunity elsewhere. It does nothing for the smaller communities that have been the backbone of this province through agriculture, forestry or industry for more than a century. It furthers the drive to urbanize the province with rural communities continuing their steep demise in the process. We seek to be a diverse province with plenty of opportunity wherever you go but it seems sometimes this isn’t the case anymore.
Once those jobs are gone, in many cases, so are the communities. My hope is one day we would see spending; jobs and opportunities happen in equal share throughout the province but the only way to do this is making rural Manitoba life appealing to professionals to both live and work. The repercussions of a urban centred approach is seen in many facets of rural daily life as it is increasingly difficult to attract professionals for health care, industry, education or commerce, just to name a few.
The lasting effect of this move is yet to be known but few could argue this is not a further loss to rural Manitoba. It remains to be seen, too, whether a shiny new office opens in Winnipeg to cover the need as the government moves to save dollars via another rural closure, and if that happens as a result of these changes, what a photo opportunity that will be.
» Shaun Cameron is a lifelong Brandon resident. He has dabbled in politics and is now chair of Renaissance Brandon, the city’s downtown development corporation. His column appears regularly.