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Reality check: The NDP's anti-Pallister ad

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1. Tory Leader Brian Pallister served in Premier Gary Filmon's cabinet for two years, 1995-97, as government services minister. That was when the average house in Winnipeg cost $85,000 and Hootie and the Blowfish topped the charts.

2. It's a charge the NDP has repeated. Every day. For 20 years. No matter who the Tory leader has been. It's the answer Health Minister Erin Selby gives every time she rises to speak during question period about anything. It is the hardest legend to parse. In the early 1990s, Ottawa gutted transfer payments to the provinces, a short recession stalled the economy and Manitoba's budget was consistently hundreds of millions in the red. Everyone remembers the wave of Filmon Fridays, austerity measures and layoffs, especially in health care. The "1,000 nurses" claim is based largely on a count made by the Manitoba Nurses Union in the spring of 1997. The MNU is hardly an unbiased source given the union's tendency to run overtly anti-Tory attack ads during election-time. The Tories have long claimed that, as Winnipeg's hospitals, care homes, community clinics and other stand-alone health care services became more centrally co-ordinated under the new Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, nursing jobs were eliminated in one location only to be created elsewhere. Nurses were fired but then rehired in other facilities, though often on a part-time or casual basis. It's virtually impossible to track each nurse, to see if he or she did, in fact, get re-hired. According to data from the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba, between 1993 and 1999, there were 366 fewer nurses practicing. What is clear is that the "1,000 nurses" claim is getting old, a 20-year-old relic of a very different fiscal era.

3. That's true. In the mid-90s, amid turmoil and cuts in the health care system, the Filmon government floated the idea of privatizing home care, starting with a small pilot program. The idea was met with significant resistance and it fizzled. The test contract was not renewed.

4. The NDP points to cuts, detailed in budget estimates, between 1992 and 1997, at the height of the austerity years, to rural hospitals totalling $37 million spread over five years.

5. A leap based on muddling together two batches of figures and mixing in some baseless fearmongering. First, when the NDP raised the PST, Pallister proposed a series of cuts and reforms that could save the province $287 million and prevent the tax hike. The Tories proposed cuts to government advertising and public relations staff, a better tendering process, a civil service hiring freeze and a one per cent cut to the province's total bottom-line. Second, the NDP added up all the spending it says Pallister has proposed over the last couple of years, including many of the same commitments the NDP has made -- boosting the welfare housing rate, fixing Victoria Avenue in Brandon, raising the basic personal exemption and others. Those goodies total $278 million, and assume, with deliberate oversimplification, that future spending means cuts elsewhere in the budget. That's not so. There is also absolutely no evidence the smattering of spending and the targeted cuts would result in nurse layoffs or "devastate health care." At no time has Pallister ever suggested he wants to close clinics and care homes. In fact, he has said several times he would not cut front-line staff if he gets elected in 2016.

6. The NDP points to what was a confusing and roundabout radio interview last May where Pallister attempted to parse the fine-grained difference between a health care system where wealthy Manitobans can jump the queue and a system when the government hires private, for-profit providers like the Maples Surgical Centre and adds them to the medicare mix. "I believe in the public purchasing of services, but I'm not convinced that every single service in the health care field should be provided by a government employee," said Pallister. "So, if your listeners understand the difference between those two things, and I think they do, I'm not a privatizer, but I am guy who believes that the private sector offers some competitive advantages in a number of areas and does a better job in some cases than government does." The "it's a delivery system that we need" quote was interrupted, and it's not clear what Pallister meant to say. But, he also never, despite repeated questioning, clearly ruled out a system where people could pay to jump the queue.

7. There was no story in the Winnipeg Sun that day about Pallister or the Tories. The NDP says this is a typo.

8. A link to an anti-Pallister website, one the NDP hopes voters doing a Google search might stumble on.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2014 ??65533

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