Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Another day older and deeper in debt

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The Manitoba government operates an apple-polishing service that daily spits out breathless "news releases" extolling the "investments" the government is making with taxpayer money (about $12.3 billion this year, up $6 billion from $6.3 billion when the NDP took charge of the spigot 14 year ago).

As of Friday, the service had posted 40 "news releases" this month, so it is safe to say that by month's end, it will have issued 50. Let's say 50 is the average number of news releases each month. That would amount to 600 a year, or 8,400 good-news stories since this bunch first was elected in 1999.

Now you might say that is impressive and, in fairness, I suppose it was for the first many thousands when the NDP was undoing the fiscal work of the previous PC government and ramping up spending with money PC austerity, growing federal transfer payments and debt provided.

But somewhere along the line the announcement-machine flipped into reverse and the releases became evidence of what the government had failed to do over its many years of apparent effort.

The most recent announcement on Friday is a case in point. It was a glowing account of a federal-provincial "lake-friendly accord" aimed at reducing the "nutrient load" in Lake Winnipeg and "improving water quality."

Great things, no doubt. But surely, they are things that were first announced at least a decade earlier, have been announced a dozen times over the past 14 years, and no doubt will be again. Yet the problems remain, and this summer you can bet there will be warnings at the beaches about fecal content. It was not evidence that something is being done, but rather that it hasn't.

It also was a reminder the NDP is in the process of consulting Manitobans on a new environment act, because after 14 years, we don't have one that works and the last one ran out of -- or rather into -- gas years ago.

Last week, we learned, too, that the NDP government is creating incentives to employ more apprentices because "skilled workers" are needed to "grow the economy." But that was true a decade ago when this government was focused on "freezing" tuitions for rich and poor alike, so that today, we have an cadre of erudite waiters working two jobs to pay off their $30,000 student loans but not enough carpenters and electricians.

We learned in March the NDP government has declared "modernized" liquor laws. Wow! Who knew it could take 14 years to modernize liquor laws. But there you have it, and I suppose we should all drink to that.

My favourite -- from March alone, let's not forget -- was the March 10 announcement that the NDP government will spend $150 million to extend CentrePort Way -- you know, the highway to CentrePort that was built before anyone figured out how to get water to what is supposed to become a massive commercial and industrial park.

The announcement was a surprise -- just last fall, CentrePort was telling me the extension was not needed now, that what existed was all that was necessary to achieve great things.

What changed? Well, in the interim, the NDP government has been forced to come up with a "real" infrastructure program to justify, after the fact, its decision to increase the PST last spring.

You remember the outrage -- well, you can't forget it, seeing as it hasn't gone away.

It was outrageous first because Premier Greg Selinger had dismissed such a hike as "nonsense" in the prior election, and second because two-thirds of Manitobans supported the increase if it was applied to crumbing municipal infrastructure -- not splash pads and community clubs, as the government announced. In one dumb move, Selinger was caught in a lie while betraying the pressing needs of Manitobans.

On the same day Selinger was paving highways across farmland north of Headingley, the Canadian Automobile Association announced this is the worst "pothole season" in Winnipeg's history.

And just like that, we discovered that after 14 years, the NDP government has failed to address provincial infrastructure needs and failed to act on pressing municipal needs.

Where did 14 years and $130 billion go? Perhaps down the drain. Certainly not into potholes.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 24, 2014 A9

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