The week after Manitoba’s NDP finally managed to pass legislation that hiked the PST from seven to eight per cent, the Progressive Conservatives released a poll that indicates Manitobans are unhappy with the direction the Selinger government is taking the province.
The NRG Research poll, released yesterday, suggested that only 11 per cent of Manitobans strongly believed the province is heading in the right direction, and that, overall, 37 per cent of us were strongly or somewhat convinced Manitoba is on the right track.
Conversely, 50 per cent believed — 27 per cent strongly so — that Manitoba is going in the wrong direction, with 13 per cent saying they were unsure or undecided.
The poll reported that much of the discontent seemed tied to the PST hike, with fully 91 per cent of those displeased blaming the tax increase for their anger.
The results of the NRG poll are buttressed by the findings of a Probe Research poll last September that found 65 per cent of Manitoba adults believed the province did not need to raise the PST.
But putting aside the understandable anger over the PST hike, the question must be posed: is Manitoba actually on the wrong track, economically speaking?
The Conference Board of Canada on Monday predicted that the Manitoba economy will grow by two per cent next year, and by 2.9 per cent in 2015. As the Winnipeg Free Press reported, that’s up from this year’s anticipated GDP growth rate of 1.7 per cent.
“Employment growth is expected to pick up and household disposable income will advance strongly — to the benefit of the province’s retailers,” the Ottawa-based think-tank wrote in its provincial outlook report.
Metal mining and the manufacturing sector are expected to do well next year, though the construction industry would be down somewhat as fiscal constraints are expected to lead to a decline in public-sector investment in new construction projects.
In fact, as the article suggests, Manitoba is doing tolerably economically. However, with some targeted investment and better decisions in some key areas, including mining, the oil and gas sector, combined with a stronger commitment to breaking down provincial trade barriers and to attracting and retaining large companies, Manitoba could be doing much better.
For example, after a flaxseed plant in the Westman town of Angusville that was owned by Glanbia Nutritionals Ingredient Technologies burned down last year, the company later announced it would build a new facility in Sioux Falls, S.D.
We firmly believe the provincial government dropped the ball on this file, and could have done more to persuade the company to rebuild the facility in Manitoba.
So too with the $100-million canola crushing plant that James Richardson International was looking to build back in 2007. Brandon and Portage la Prairie had been two of five communities that had been shortlisted as possible sites for the canola plan, but ultimately the Winnipeg-based company decided to locate the plant in Yorkton, Sask., saying it was “better suited” to meet JRI’s “current and future operational needs.”
These are the kinds of economic drivers we need in this province, and we can ill-afford to be passed by when these companies are sniffing around looking for a place to set down new roots.
Of course, there have been some good news stories recently as well — WestJet is now landing at the Brandon airport, and Saputo Inc., Canada’s largest dairy producer, announced in September that it would be doubling the size of its Brandon plant, translating into 60 new jobs.
But all too often our provincial government seems asleep at the switch, especially when it comes to any economic development that falls outside of fortress Winnipeg.
As a province, we also remain on the outside of the New West Partnership trade agreement forged between Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. The result? Manitoba has been isolated from some of the country’s largest markets. It should come as no surprise that the Conference Board of Canada also predicted that the economies of six other provinces are expected to do better than Manitoba, with Alberta likely to lead GDP growth at 3.4 per cent next year.
In the meantime, the Manitoba government has been unable — or more likely, unwilling — to curb its aggressive addiction to other people’s money, and as a result we have a ballooning debt load, unchecked deficit spending, and a highly unpopular PST hike that will do more to drive away new business and people than attract them.
Manitoba’s economy may be chugging along, but all too often that’s in spite of the provincial government, not because of it.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 11, 2013