Right in the centre - Budgeting for survival


Ken Waddell
The Neepawa Banner

The Manitoba government is holding pre-budget meetings all over the province. It is a process that has been happening for years. It makes sense. The NDP did it for years. It is a good and proper process.

There is a bit of a difference this year. Unlike previous years, the government is actually asking a meaningful question. In the past, the government officials would tell people what the budget would be and all about the great plans government had. They would make some noises about holding the line on taxes. The last NDP government then went ahead and raised the PST, to 8 per cent, something that wasn’t in the budget consultations. In fact, then Premier Greg Selinger said he wouldn’t raise the PST but did it anyway. Logically, it lead to a party revolt and the eventual defeat of the NDP government.

This year, the PC government is laying out a radical alternative by suggesting a health care fee might be brought in. Many people are up in arms about that prospect. Nobody wants to pay more in taxes but does the government or we, the people, really have a choice? Is there a living soul in Manitoba that wants to see health care cut back? Likely, there are administrative things that could be cut and there have ben some cuts and trimming but does anyone really want to cut back on health care. We have about 750,000 people living in the greater Winnipeg area who can access health care within half an hour or less. We have the rest of the province who are anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 hours away from health care. An air ambulance from a remote community can take half a day.

Unless we move everyone to southern Manitoba, a large portion of our population has to be transported by land or air ambulance to urgent health care. I don’t think we are going to shut down places like Island Lake or Churchill, so ambulance costs are going to be with us for a long time. We aren’t going to stop doing knee replacements, gall bladder surgery, or hysterectomies, so I don’t think that’s going to be cut. As I said last week, health care takes up 42 per cent of the Manitoba budget and is heading for 52 per cent or higher, so what are the alternatives?

What government programs can be cut? Is it education, I doubt that. Could Manitoba Agriculture be reduced even further? We hardly have an Ag department as it is now. Remember when there were 40 or more Ag offices across Manitoba? Can we cut any more from streets and roads?

Other provinces have premiums. In BC, an adult earning over $42,000, pays $75 per month or $900 per year. That’s a lot of money but not everyone earns $42,000 per year.

So do we let the government get their hands on $700-900 per year of our money? Do we implement mandatory health care plans whereby everyone has to buy insurance? I don’t know  the answer, but if we are to have a sustainable health care system in Manitoba, there has to be some changes. And yes, it will likely cost more money.

You better get out to one of the budget meetings and have your say.