Right in the centre - Nobody should be surprised


By Ken Waddell

The Neepawa Banner

It is a bit amazing that some people are surprised and even angry that the Province of Manitoba is having to seriously look at ways of cutting expenses. The deficit is a billion dollars. In case anyone is unsure of what that is, it is 1,000 million dollars. Can one even imagine that? A 1,000 million is enough money to build 3,000 houses at $333,000 each. It’s enough to build modest sized city’s worth of homes. That’s lot of money and made even more serious because it is a deficit, a loss, and it’s happening every year.

So the PC government has cut back a couple of school gymnasiums and some health care projects. The economy either has to grow a lot or more cutbacks will be coming, sad to say. It is almost incomprehensible to figure out how the province can balance a budget. Add to that level of despair the fact that Manitoba Hydro is in deep debt. Add to that the Keyask dam is going to go $2 billion over budget.

I know it used to be a NDP/union fuelled sin that anyone would suggest selling Manitoba Hydro. Given the Hydro debt and the provincial debt, is it time to consider selling Hydro? I don’t know the answer, but the question has to be considered. I suspect that Hydro is so loaded with debt that nobody would want to buy it. 

When the province and Hydro are so loaded with debt, it has to be considered if a long-term plan for both the province and Hydro would be a private ownership scenario. One thing for certain, had Hydro been privately owned, they would not have built the downtown Winnipeg tower, a building that doesn’t really work that well. Private ownership would not likely have entered into the sketchy long term power contracts. No private company would have built the west side Bi-Pole III line at $2 billion larger cost than the east side route. And no private company would have allowed their employee numbers to expand to the point where 900 people would be laid off. It would have happened years earlier.

But all that is water over the dam. The trick is to not repeat the errors. Selling Hydro needs to be thoroughly debated.

Many people suspect that the civil service numbers are out of proportion to our population. Studies show that to be the case, with a higher than average number of civil servants proportional to our population. That is in no way a personal reflection on anybody who works for the government, it just means that we have a higher proportion of civil servants than most other provinces. That disproportion has to be addressed.

We also need to look at history. Hospitals and universities were often built by churches. We have a lot of old infrastructure that was provided by Christian and Jewish orders. All that infrastructure building has been taken over by the government. Maybe that needs to be reversed. 

The PC government has to look seriously at all the options. Previous governments have been hide bound by some bad assumptions. Every assumption has to be questioned. A $1,000 million annual loss is a big thing to overcome.