Recently, Premier Greg Selinger gave his annual “State of the Province” speech to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.
It was full of the usual boasts about spending money on various projects, but it also lacked innovative ideas and empathy with everyday taxpayers. So here’s an alternative speech the Premier could have delivered (and the following are real numbers).
“Ladies and gentlemen, I want to begin today by noting that our government has heard you loud and clear. We understand that families across Manitoba are feeling the pinch from the PST increase, big school tax increases as well as municipal property tax hikes and large hydro rate increases.
We know that many families are struggling as inflation and taxes are going up faster than peoples’ incomes. Plain and simple, government needs to be more affordable for people.
We’re not too proud to acknowledge that we made a mistake with the PST increase.
That’s why the PST will be going back down to 7 per cent as of April 1, 2014. Some will say it can’t be done, but the amount of money brought in by the PST increase only represents a couple percent of total government spending. We can easily be 2 or 3 per cent more efficient.
After all, our government’s total spending has doubled since our party took office in 1999. It’s time to aggressively review spending to find savings options.
Tomorrow I’m striking an all-party committee to find savings and advise on how government spending can be more sustainable. Yes, I’m going to try and work with both opposition parties.
And to show that I’m serious about savings, I’m going to start doing a better job of leading by example.
My predecessor, Gary Doer, only had 16 people in his cabinet. Currently there are 19. We all know that every provincial politician that is put in cabinet receives a pay increase, a government vehicle, more staff and other benefits. That’s why I’m going to cut my cabinet back down to 16 members.
I’m also going to enforce the 40 per cent pay cut that cabinet Ministers are supposed to take when we run deficits. As many know, we changed the rules to make it only a 20 per cent pay cut, but that’s not right.
Those two moves will help send a strong signal to the bureaucracy that I’m serious about belt tightening so that we can save Manitobans money.
Upon further review, we've noticed that there is a lot of room in the bureaucracy to trim savings. In fact, a Frontier Centre for Public Policy study notes that if Manitoba could get the size of its municipal and provincial bureaucracy down to the national average, we could save over $1 billion per year. That is more than three times what the PST increase brought in each year.
While I have already announced a reduction of 600 bureaucrat positions, it looks like we actually increased the bureaucracy by 1,200 positions leading up to that announcement. Thus, we need to do better.
Thankfully, my own government’s research notes that 40 per cent of civil servants will be ready to retire during the next 10 years. Thus, we should be able to downsize without hurting existing staff. As people retire, we’re only going to replace necessary positions.
But I also recognize there are many talented people in the bureaucracy and working on the front lines that know where savings can be found. That’s why I’m going to introduce an innovative measure known as ‘gain-sharing’ to the provincial government.
If employees can deliver the same results or better, and put forward ideas that reduce costs, we’re going to share some of the savings with them. So if a division knows it only really needs eight employees to get its work done instead of 10, they can share some of the savings with the government. The move will be a win-win for taxpayers and employees.
Our government will also be looking at more partnerships with the private sector. Saskatchewan is going tosave $93 million by having hospitals partner with a business to clean hospital linens. We’re going to look at more partnerships like that, too.
We’re also going to cut back on government advertising and, just like Ontario, we’re going to ask our provincial auditor to approve all major government ad campaigns to make sure there is no partisan rhetoric in them. The move will save millions of dollars and improve accountability.
Our roads and highways need a lot of work. That is why proposals for discretionary projects like new stadiums or convention centres will be turned down for five years. Instead, we're going to put the savings towards road and highway repair.
Over the past year I’ve picked up a growing resentment from the public towards politicians. The frustration comes from a number of places – fat cat senators, my own broken promise about not raising taxes and the shenanigans at city hall in Winnipeg to name a few.
To improve confidence in our democratic system, I am announcing that Manitoba will soon have recall legislation; just like British Columbia. If voters collect enough petition signatures, they can force a municipal or provincial politician to lose his or her seat, resulting in a by-election.
My government will also be giving our provincial ombudsman the power to force government departments to release information. Doing so will contribute to a new goal of making Manitoba the most open and transparent province in Canada.
Clearly these ideas represent a big shift for our government, but I have heard you loud and clear. The next State of the Province speech will be celebrated with lower taxes, better roads and services and a more transparent and accountable government.