Late last month, the Manitoba government announced it would be freezing the salaries of 57 government and opposition MLAs, as part of the 2012 provincial budget, which will be unveiled tomorrow.
With the government having spent its way into an estimated $1.1-billion deficit in 2011 — some of it necessary, in the case of last spring’s flooding — the MLA salary freeze was more symbolic than constructive.
This is on top of legislation passed two years ago that rolled back cabinet ministers’ pay by 20 per cent until the government’s books are balanced. That’s a fine sentiment, especially as the province begins to negotiate new contracts with some 6,500 public sector workers in the coming months.
“I think we need to lead by example,” Manitoba Finance Minister Stan Struthers told the Winnipeg Free Press in March. “There’s no question it’s a tough economic environment out there these days. We’re going to be asking a lot of people to do their part for us to come back into balance.”
Halting politicians’ pay would give the government the moral high ground when it asks the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union to do the same. If the government has any hope of trying to balance its books before the next election — forget 2014 — getting such concessions from the union will be an absolute necessity.
Some 1,700 MPI employees — members of the MGEU — are soon to begin negotiating a new collective agreement. Their current deal expires on Sept. 22.
As well, the contract of about 4,800 hospital support workers (including health-care aides, tradespeople, laundry, housekeeping, dieticians and clerical staff) expired last month. Also represented by the MGEU, these workers are expected to begin bargaining this spring.
We remain quite concerned, however, that the province’s tough talk is mostly just that: talk. As Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen said last week, the public sector unions played a large role in the NDP’s re-election campaign. Can we really trust the NDP to play hardball with its supporters?
At the same time, Struthers signalled just last week that the provincial government’s penchant for spending will continue, though only for those files that have been deemed priorities for Manitobans.
While picking out a pair of new shoes at a Dauphin store last week, Struthers gave media a little glimpse into tomorrow’s provincial budget — essentially a mix of spending cuts and spending increases.
Struthers said his budget will lay out a spending plan to wipe out the deficit by 2014, without sacrificing services. His budget will serve to “protect” health care, education, skills training and infrastructure renewal with strategic spending.
Also, The Canadian Press wrote this weekend that the NDP has spent some $93 million more on families and public safety, even though core government revenue is about $42 million lower than budgeted, according to last December’s fiscal update.
Apparently, there will be cuts in “other areas,” though the minister did not specify what those areas are. Just don’t look for any major cuts to civil service jobs.
We are certainly not fans of slash-and-burn decisions that would cause havoc to necessary social and economic programs. But the NDP has apparently lost sight of at least one of the definitions of the word “budget.”
At this point in time, Manitoba has a huge budget deficit, a ballooning debt load and a government that can’t seem to curb its spending.
Mr. Struthers, we need more than symbolic gestures from our provincial government. We need solid fiscal management and politicians with enough backbone to say, “Enough is enough.”
Unfortunately, we don’t think tomorrow’s budget will show evidence of that.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 16, 2012