Pallister begins lining Crown corporations up at the chopping block

Brian Pallister speaks in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly.

With madness unfolding below our border, it is often difficult to keep track of what is happening on our own doorstep. Manitoba premier Brian Pallister is rolling back on promises he made during his election campaign by pursuing shortsighted, economically impractical solutions, including his plan to implement regulatory cutbacks by axing two regulations for every new regulation introduced as legislation – a one-step-forward, two-steps-backwards policy.

Most recently, the provincial government announced that it would proceed with cuts targeting Crown corporations. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries and Manitoba Public Insurance are expected to engage in “management reduction” amounting to 15 per cent of employees. Laying blame on the previous NDP government for failing to address bureaucratic over-hiring, Pallister also announced that further cuts will be made toward Manitoba Hydro as executive positions are to be reduced by 30 per cent and 900 employees at large will be laid off – nearly one-sixth of the workforce.

Manitoba Hydro CEO Kelvin Shepherd explained that the cuts made would save the utility between $60 million to $65 million a year. But these cuts will not be enough to stop rate increases of at least 10 per cent per year that Manitobans will face over the next five years. The double-digit rate increases will have a significant impact, especially on low-income, energy-poor families who will likely face hardships while austerity measures continue to be doled out as the so-called “Progressive” Conservatives get settled in government.

One of Canada’s top employers, Manitoba Hydro is one of the most important job creators in the province. It provides high quality jobs, good pay and benefits, and helps boost incomes throughout Manitoba that keep our economy going. Adopting austerity measures and throwing out 900 jobs from our economy, reducing state involvement, and hoping that the invisible hand will figure things out is not a sound strategy and will hinder rather than boost the economy.

The cuts made at Manitoba Hydro have been met with strong criticism by NDP labour critic Tom Lindsey, who explained how this ill-advised move will result in the loss of an important number of skilled workers, inevitably hurting Manitoba Hydro in the long-term as “it will force Hydro to rely more heavily on contract and out-of-province labour to fit the gaps Pallister is creating.”

There are so many unanswered questions. Are the employees being laid off young and mid-career workers, or are they on the brink of retirement? Will these 900 workers be able to find equivalent professional jobs? If so, how? What support systems will be put in place? How exactly will these workers be compensated? How will these cuts consequently affect Manitobans who rely on Manitoba Hydro’s services?

One thing goes without question: taking away 900 well-paid jobs will notably impact our province’s economy for the worse.

But as has been clearly demonstrated through the government’s unwanted and unwarranted involvement in the UMFA strike, Pallister dislikes anything that remotely looks like the public sector. The families and workers affected will definitely be hurt by these cuts, and those hit hardest won’t be able to find reprieve in Costa Rica.

The doom and gloom scenario that Pallister’s government has been spinning gives them the excuse they need to shrink government and go after public-sector workers. It also sets up Manitoba Hydro for a major intervention, perhaps of the private kind.

Pallister claims his mission is to make Manitoba the “most-improved province” in Canada. While it isn’t clear how he intends to measure this improvement, it is difficult to imagine how the loss of 900 decent jobs in a small economy like ours and double-digit increases to Hydro rates will improve anyone’s lives.