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Surging Tories try to stay grounded

Friday, July 7th, 2006

By Martin Cash

PROGRESSIVE Conservative party members were trying to hold back their glee and not appear cocky yesterday after Winnipeg Free Press/Probe Research poll results showed their party shooting past the governing NDP in public opinion.

Tory leader Hugh McFadyen said he was encouraged by the results that showed 43 per cent of Manitobans would support his party if there were an election tomorrow, compared to 38 per cent for the NDP.

After returning from Brandon, where Rick Borotsik, the popular former Brandon mayor and MP, was acclaimed as the party's candidate for Brandon West Wednesday, McFadyen said the party has plenty more work left to do.

"Some Manitobans may be encouraged by some of the steps we have taken, but at the end of the day we don't take voters for granted and anyone who does that gets themselves into trouble," he said. "We will continue to work hard to earn the support of Manitobans on election day."

The latest poll follows two previous ones in December 2005 and March 2006 in which the two parties were in a dead heat.

Not surprisingly, NDP Premier Gary Doer was not too enthusiastic about talking about the poll yesterday.

"I've got a drawer full of polls that have us lower than we thought and then higher than we thought," he said. "My answer is still the same -- we always campaign as if we are one vote behind."

Political analysts agree that the provincial Tories are benefiting from the honeymoon period the federal Conservative party is enjoying and the recent election of McFadyen as the provincial party's leader, which has provided fresh interest and enthusiasm for the party.

"The results are not unexpected," said Paul Thomas, a political science professor at the University of Manitoba. "That's partly because the NDP is at the mid-point or slightly past that of their second term in office. They have faced a lot of challenging issues and have been a bit on the run in the last session."

The Doer government has been hounded by accountability issues and claims of mismanagement at arms-length organizations like the Crocus Investment Fund and the Workers Compensation Board. They have also faced recent problems within the child welfare system.

"When the legislature is in session, it is the only time the opposition has a regular platform to challenge the government, make attacks and gain ground in terms of public opinion," Thomas said. "This poll comes right after the close of a session."

Thomas said things could change before the next election. One political analyst, who asked that his name not be used, said the poll will sound warning bells for the NDP.

"This is going to wake Doer up," the analyst said.

But he added that people do not know that much about what McFadyen stands for yet.

Thomas agreed, saying the last Progressive Conservative premier, Gary Filmon, clearly stood for things like fiscal restraint and budget cutting.

"Voters will wait to see what the Conservative party and the new leader stands for," Thomas said. "They will have work to do to produce a platform and to have the issues embodied in its leader, who will have to go head to head with a very experienced leader who, even though he may sometimes appear glib, has a very good grasp of the issues."

Allen Mills, a political science professor at the University of Winnipeg who has written in the past about the Doer government's comfortable hold on power, acknowledged that there is a trend afoot.

"It is an accumulation of a number of little things like the Crocus Fund, issues to do with the state of the highways and infrastructure and the sense that nothing is being done," he said.

"Those things combined do create an opening (for change)."

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Some people are calling it the "halo effect" of a Conservative government in Ottawa and a new Conservative leader in Manitoba but Probe Research has said the most cited beef has been about the poor condition of the infrastructure. It has become quite an issue as the provinces roads and bridges fall apart.

What do other people think?

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What do other people think?
I would like to know: Who are these people that once voted for the NDP are now saying they would support the Tories?

I also want to ask those people:

What do you want from your government?

What is it that you expect from the Tories that the NDP can not deliver?

I am starting to like my rotating "turn at bat" political-power model more and more as a solution for dealing with these shenanigans. Forget about polls. Forget about elections. Hell, even forget about the electorate.

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What do other people think?
I would like to know: Who are these people that once voted for the NDP are now saying they would support the Tories?

I also want to ask those people:

What do you want from your government?

What is it that you expect from the Tories that the NDP can not deliver?

I am starting to like my rotating "turn at bat" political-power model more and more as a solution for dealing with these shenanigans. Forget about polls. Forget about elections. Hell, even forget about the electorate.

There were a few questions to that effect over the last few months. Several polls have asked what people wanted from their government.

One of the things that was wanted is an inquiry into what happened with Crocus, the labour sponsored fund. Many union people have lost a lot of money with that but Doer refuses to call an inquiry. Moreover, the receiver will not accept offers to purchase the fund. No one knows what is happening.

So, I guess for some people, a change of government might actually bring an inquiry.

There are other issues as well. Those have more to do with the overall financial management of the province. There have been some colossal bail outs in the last few months but never an investigation as to why.

For these reasons many people who voted NDP last election have lost some of that faith in the party.

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There are other issues as well. Those have more to do with the overall financial management of the province. There have been some colossal bail outs in the last few months but never an investigation as to why.

What are you referring to?

Hydra House, for one.

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As an ousider, I'm curious about why Manitoba remains a 'have-not province', with about 20% of the provincial budget coming in federal handouts.

It appears to have cheap energy, an educated workforce, plenty of arable land.... Why is the province continually sucking the federal teat?

There are a number of reasons, not all of them have to do with government.

1. Private investment. Private investment in Manitoba is one of the lowest in Canada. Growth in Manitoba cannot come strictly from public spending. Also, private companies cannot continually complain that the business climate prevents them from investing. The economy in Manitoba is hopping in 2006 and private businesses are still not putting enough capital investment into their companies.

2. Immigration. Manitoba until recent years has done a poor job of attracting immigrants. When Ontario and B.C. were booming due in part to immigration in the 1990s, Manitoba was left out and subsequently, the population was static. Immigration is one of the bright spots now for Manitoba due to the provincial nominee program. However, there is still a migration out of Manitoba as people seek jobs in Alberta and retire in British Columbia.

3. Taxes. Taxes are too high when compared to other provinces, especially the west. There is probably no way to compete directly with Alberta's lack of a sales tax but the province should try to make sure it is comparable to Saskatchewan. The province needs to make sure that it doesn't spend money frivolously. The purchase of private medical clinics does not serve Medicare. Additionally, bailouts for corrupt or incompetent agencies has got to stop.

4. Environmental protection. Manitoba's largest lake is about to go dead because of poor environmental stewardship. Along with it, the province could lose a lot of industry, mainly fishing and tourism. Land usage is also been poor and many farms need better environmental protection.

Those are the internal reasons why Manitoba has been a "have not" province. Some of the external reasons have been Alberta's explosive growth due to oil revenue and Ontario's continued strength in industry.

In any federation, there are areas that will not be as powerful as other area. Every federation except the United States has a federal transfer program. The United States program transfers money through the Interstate highway system and military contracts that are divided alongst all 50 states.

With proper financial guidance over several years, Manitoba might be a break even province.

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Having to spend close to a billion widening/deepening the floodway around Winnipeg makes you hanker for that teat something fierce.

This is another area where the province has let costs get out of control. And to top it off, Doer said that they might do an incomplete job because of shortfalls in financing.

That will be cold comfort when Manitoba has a flood that makes 1997 look small.

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This is another area where the province has let costs get out of control.

You think they should have had more control over the economy?

A lot of the contracters have said the major cause of cost overruns is a master labour agreement.

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A lot of the contracters have said the major cause of cost overruns is a master labour agreement.

A lot of people who don't hold a grudge say that the price of skilled construction labour has risen at a faster than expected rate across the country and especially in the west.

In any case, they've already announced they won't be scaling back the project. They found some efficiencies and won't need to rebuild some of the bridges.

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A lot of people who don't hold a grudge say that the price of skilled construction labour has risen at a faster than expected rate across the country and especially in the west.

In any case, they've already announced they won't be scaling back the project. They found some efficiencies and won't need to rebuild some of the bridges.

That's because the federal government kicked in the promised money that the Liberals first put on the table. There are other phases to this as well and hopefully, funding from all levels of government will kick in.

I'd still like an auditor-general's report on this because of the money and management involved. Are the cost overruns just because of increased labour and supply prices or was the contract and tendering not up to snuff?

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Thanks for your long and reasoned response. it does raise further questions though.....

There are a number of reasons, not all of them have to do with government.

"1. Private investment. Private investment in Manitoba is one of the lowest in Canada. Growth in Manitoba cannot come strictly from public spending. Also, private companies cannot continually complain that the business climate prevents them from investing. The economy in Manitoba is hopping in 2006 and private businesses are still not putting enough capital investment into their companies."

No doubt that wholesale reliance on public spending as the vehicle for economic growth is an idea that has been abandoned pretty much everywhere. Does 'everywhere' include Manitoba?

What then is the reason that corporations will not invest in a place with plenty of physical and human resources?

"2. Immigration. Manitoba until recent years has done a poor job of attracting immigrants. "

People follow the money. I still wonder why there isn';t much in Manitoba, given their resources.

"3. Taxes. Taxes are too high when compared to other provinces, especially the west. "

Perhaps the govt should consider slashing taxes in an effort to atract industry,jobs and hey! presto chango - more tax revenue as a result. Has this approach ever been given consideration by the province?

"Those are the internal reasons why Manitoba has been a "have not" province. Some of the external reasons have been Alberta's explosive growth due to oil revenue and Ontario's continued strength in industry."

Alberta and Ontario are to blame for the lack of performance of the economy in Manitoba? Please explain.

"In any federation, there are areas that will not be as powerful as other area. Every federation except the United States has a federal transfer program. The United States program transfers money through the Interstate highway system and military contracts that are divided alongst all 50 states."

I don't think it is a matter of 'powerful', and I do not see the relevance of your example in the US. Is the economy of Manitoba ultimately made weaker or stronger by its odd and apparently inexplicable reliance on the federal government?

"With proper financial guidance over several years, Manitoba might be a break even province. "

Do you see the current or future government as being capable of providing proper financial guidance?

And from Bubber:"Having to spend close to a billion widening/deepening the floodway around Winnipeg makes you hanker for that teat something fierce"

Do you have any info on how much of that money was provided by the province, and how much by the federal government? Are provincial govt expenditures for this infrastructure issue any different than those off any other province? Doesn't every provincial government have similar challenges?

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Thanks for your long and reasoned response. it does raise further questions though.....

There are a number of reasons, not all of them have to do with government.

Perhaps the govt should consider slashing taxes in an effort to atract industry,jobs and hey! presto chango - more tax revenue as a result. Has this approach ever been given consideration by the province?

Alberta and Ontario are to blame for the lack of performance of the economy in Manitoba? Please explain.

I don't think it is a matter of 'powerful', and I do not see the relevance of your example in the US. Is the economy of Manitoba ultimately made weaker or stronger by its odd and apparently inexplicable reliance on the federal government?

Do you see the current or future government as being capable of providing proper financial guidance?

Slashing of taxes does raise revenues but the idea that they can be done without slashing services is false. The United States slashed taxes, raised revenues but their deficit has climbed since Bush came to office. Most economists, if not all, have said it is because services were not slashed as well. Manitoba could cut services but as I mentioned, Manitoba still couldn't compete with Alberta for a lower tax regime. And most likely what would happen is that a huge deificit would emerge even at running bare bones operations.

Quite frankly, no one in Canada can compete with Alberta's lower taxes. No one has the oil revenues that Alberta has to make a provincial sales tax disappear.

I didn't assess blame for Manitoba's being a 'have not" province, I just indicated that there were external forces that competed when it came to taxation and industry. No matter how low the tax goes in Manitoba, Alberta could go one better. In fact, if there was *no* tax in Manitoba, Alberta would still have the revenue to *pay* its citizens and businesses to stay.

Equalization payments exist within a federation to ensure that one region doesn't fall to unacceptable levels of service than another area. I know some people have argued that if they didn't exist, Manitobans could simply abandon the province and leave for Alberta. But the government of Canada knows that is not a benefit to the federation. Alberta itself was a long time recipient of equalization payments. Equalization was needed to ensure services were comparable to other provinces. And when oil was discovered, Alberta was well positioned with infrastructure and people to take advantage of it.

The relevance of the United States example is that the federal government there knows that some states cannot expect to build infrastructure of the quality that other states could do on their own. However, the U.S. government knows that for the United States to be competitive, it has to ensure parity for all states for a service such as interstate highways. That is why, the federal government takes responsibility for transfering money to all 50 states for this specific task. It is a form of equalization. There are other similar programs like this in the United States. It is one of the reasons why the U.S. is a huge economic success. Development there has been a 50 state effort.

Equalization is not inexplicable. It doesn't mean the recipients are basket cases. It doesn't mean that provinces that have never received equalization are superior (would that mean Ontario was better than Alberta?) It simply means the federal government has an interest in ensuring that certain parts of the country do not fall below national standards of service.

Can the present government get Manitoba to a "have" status? Not likely. They haven't put Manitoba into a deficit but they are tired and the innovations needed increase revenues substantially just aren't there.

Can a new government do it? I have no idea. The Conservatives just got a new leader but he is untested and there is no platform yet.

I think the big question is can business in Manitoba step up to the plate? They cannot routinely blame government for their lack of investment. Sometimes businesses have to forge ahead on their own and create the conditions for their own success. There has been too little of this in Manitoba.

Hydro might ultimately be where Manitoba royalities comes from. There is a steady royalty now that the government gets from Hydro. The north is still untapped and Ontario is dying for energy. There are a number of stumbling blocks, not the least is the lack of high power transmission lines to Ontario. That would cost $1 billion. If it gets done, it could be the start a continuing royalty stream for the province for decades to come.

All that is long term though. In the short term, Manitoba has to make sure it doesn't go into deficit and that it build its success from people rather than resources.

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Do you have any info on how much of that money was provided by the province, and how much by the federal government?

The province and the federal Liberal government agreed to be 50/50 partners, and Harper said his government would honour any previous agreements. It isn't clear if the Conservatives will agree to any of cost overruns from the 2003 estimates though.

Are provincial govt expenditures for this infrastructure issue any different than those off any other province? Doesn't every provincial government have similar challenges?

The original floodway construction excavated more dirt than they did for the Panama Canal. This time, they're raising the capacity from 2550 to 4000 cubic metres a second, so it's about 3/5 more. I don't know of any other jurisdiction that has a similarly unusual, massive (but altogether necessary) infrastructure project.

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I'd love to see a break down of what their expenses were.

Here you go.

http://www.canada.com/globaltv/manitoba/videos/expense.pdf

Have you read the report? Gary Doer has a very reasonable expense account considering he is the premier. He has nothing listed as a personal expense for security but some of the ministers had $5000 listed for the year? Whatever for? And why as a persoan expense? Do you have any idea?

I know in Newfoundland that the Conservatives and Liberals have had some expense accounts that are producing some police interest. I wouldn't go that far with these as I don't don't what the cap is but having expenses that are way over the premier's needs some explanation.

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You should check out Alberta Ministers, they live like corporate execs. Mind you, we have money so we kind of turn the other way... though we shouldn't.

Do most other provinces have a fleet of jets?

I think there are some aircraft that the government can use but they double as air ambulances or fire service aircraft. In the event of an emergency, a minister can be left somewhere. I can't find information on it in the Manitoba website. I've not heard of any past Manitoba government misusing the government fleet.

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