LOCAL VIEWPOINT: Manitobans facing bad and worse at the polls
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Over the past few weeks, Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government has been repeatedly rocked by the release of reports that further jeopardize its sagging re-election hopes. It has been a series of political gut-punches that would ordinarily put a government down for the count and on a one-way trip to the opposition benches.
On Feb. 3, a report in the Winnipeg Free Press revealed that Manitoba’s cities have experienced their largest exodus of citizens to other provinces in more than two decades. According to Statistics Canada data, more than 7,000 Winnipeggers left Manitoba between July 1, 2021, and 2022 for destinations in other provinces. Brandon lost 981 residents during the same time frame, which is approximately two per cent of the city’s total population.
On Feb. 14, it was reported in the Free Press that Manitoba has the highest child-poverty rate of all Canadian provinces, more than seven per cent higher than the national average. According to 2020 taxation data, nearly 65,000 Manitoba children — 20 per cent of all children in the province — were living in poverty.
That same day, yet another report in the Free Press told us, according to the 2022 Prosperity Report released by the Manitoba Employers Council, Manitoba ranks dead last among the five provinces west of Quebec in 11 of 33 key economic indicators. The news report said: “Manitoba fares worst when it comes to how many citizens leave the province, how much we earn weekly and how much in income tax we pay.”
When you combine all that information with data showing that Manitoba also has some of Canada’s highest health-care wait times, violent crime rates and poorest child-education outcomes, an obvious question emerges: why would you re-elect a government that has had all of that happen during its seven years in power?
That’s the “ballot-box question” Manitoba’s New Democrats want voters to ask themselves as they choose which candidate to vote for in the upcoming provincial election. It would ordinarily be a solid election strategy, but there’s a problem: on virtually every issue the NDP could hammer the Stefanson government on, the reality is that Manitoba was in even worse shape under the previous NDP government.
When the NDP was in power, Manitoba ranked worst in the nation for many health-care wait times and outcomes, and our kids consistently performed at or near the bottom on standardized tests in English, math and science when compared with other provinces. Violent crime, auto theft, arson and drug abuse were rampant throughout the province.
Manitoba’s child-poverty rate is both troubling and embarrassing, but we already had Canada’s highest rate when the NDP’s Greg Selinger was premier.
The latest Manitoba Employers Council report ranks Manitoba dead last in 11 of 33 economic indicators, but the council’s 2016 report concluded we were worst in 16 of 26 categories.
In other words, we have actually improved since the Selinger days.
Last year’s exodus of Manitobans is a huge concern, but we’ve been losing thousands of citizens every year for at least the past 20 years, 13 of which were when the NDP was in charge.
Viewed from that perspective, it’s easy to regard the coming election as a depressing contest between bad and worse. Voters must choose either the political party that broke our economy and our health care, education and justice systems or the party that has been unable to repair that damage.
This is the point where Liberal supporters might claim they offer a viable third option that can deliver moderate, competent and compassionate government. Manitobans would leap at such an option if it genuinely existed, but the Liberals are doing little to convince us they are the viable, centrist alternative many voters crave. Until they do, we are trapped in a game — a “duopoly” — in which neither of the two choices instils any realistic hope the situation will improve any time soon.
Under those circumstances, you can’t blame Manitobans for continuing to choose the option that offers better health care, lower taxes, safer communities and a brighter future for their children, even if that option is only found in other provinces.