Wouldn’t it be nice if the premier had a discussion like the following with his staff?
"They’re right," said Premier Greg Selinger, as he put down the Fraser Institute’s recent report that ranked premiers for their fiscal policy.
"We just can’t keep spending more each year than we bring in. No household could earn $100,000 per year and spend $110,000 year after year. Eventually creditors knock on the door and keep you distracted while someone else backs your car out of your driveway."
"Ok, well in our case they aren’t going to steal the new stadium we built, but our credit rating could get shot. That would make it hard to borrow money to build new nursing homes and schools."
"The Fraser Institute is just a bunch of right wing nut jobs," chimed in one of the premier’s more junior staffers named Bill. "Of course they’re going to rate you last in the country."
"But Doer received a better grade from them," quipped the premier. "We need to go in a new direction. We need a more balanced budget — what can we do to reduce spending without causing much harm?"
"Sir," a bearded, more elder statesman named Liam chimed in. "On the spending side we could borrow an idea from Saskatchewan’s NDP … from the 1970s."
"From the 1970s," questioned a suspicious Selinger.
"Yes, but hear me out," said Liam. "In the 1970s, Saskatchewan’s NDP government realized their government employee pension plans were simply too expensive and risky. So they began putting new employees in less costly pension plans called defined contribution plans. It has saved them hundreds of millions of dollars because they aren’t on the hook for huge liabilities."
"Well it is true that most taxpayers working outside of the government have no workplace pension plan at all," said the premier. "Our own plans here have been getting bailouts from taxpayers. It’s just not fair to keep going back to people that have no pension and ask them to pay more for shortfalls in already pretty generous government employee plans. Let’s do it. We’ll save millions, it won’t hurt existing employees and new employees will still have a good pension."
"What else have you got," asked the premier.
"Well," Liam began. "We’ve committed to reduce the size of the civil service by 600 jobs over the next three years. But since the economic slowdown began, we’ve increased the bureaucracy by over 1,200 so it isn’t really much of a cut. Hundreds of employees are going to retire each year so if we didn’t fill their spots, we could downsize by 1,200 jobs without any pain."
"Sounds reasonable. Our brothers and sisters in labour can do their part too," said the premier. "Next?"
"I’ve got an idea to help working families," added Martin. "Our research shows that if we indexed the tax brackets for inflation, it wouldn’t hurt us much in revenues and it would keep our taxes from getting higher and higher than the rest of Canada."
"Go on," said the premier.
"It sounds geeky, but it could help all taxpayers out. Best of all, it would shut up those yahoos from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation who are always whining about the problem."
"I like it. Add that one to the mix too," said Selinger.
While this conversation was fictitious, the solutions and numbers within it were not. Now all we need is for the premier to call a staff meeting and make it happen.
» Colin Craig is Manitoba director Canadian Taxpayer Federation, the country’s leading non-partisan citizens’ advocacy group fighting for lower taxes, less waste and accoutable government.