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Another opportunity to be bold is lost

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It was more than a year ago that the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce conceived the Manitoba BOLD campaign out of a desire to elevate our sights and engage Manitobans in a discussion about their province and its future.

The main premise behind the Manitoba BOLD campaign focused on creating jobs and increasing prosperity in Manitoba through a reinvention of the tax model, greater accountability and transparency within the provincial government and the implementation of a dividend policy from Manitoba Hydro profits.

The chamber outlined more than 70 recommendations in six key areas that, if implemented in their entirety, could achieve some bold targets, such as increasing the number of businesses in Manitoba by 50 per cent over the next decade and doubling the number of head offices in Manitoba over that same time frame.

The chamber believes we can't tinker our way to success and had urged the government to be bold and focus on growing our economy, creating jobs and leveraging our strengths through a strategic, focused and results-driven approach in Budget 2012.

Unfortunately, we got more bland than bold in the budget and the government hand-picked only a couple of our recommendations that suited their needs. Instead of a budget that outlines a clear strategy focused on growing the Manitoba economy, we see minor decreases in spending in some government departments, expanding the provincial sales tax for certain items and an increase in the gas tax.

While we support some of these policy measures, they are not meant to be cherry-picked on their own and need to be part of a much broader policy objective that also puts money back in the pockets of all Manitobans.

What we were hoping to see in Budget 2012 was a commitment to competitiveness and the development of world-class sectors that would put us on the international map. We are missing an aggressive approach to job creation and prosperity that has left Manitoba behind most other provinces, most notably the western provinces.

The Manitoba Prosperity Report released by the Manitoba Employers Council last summer underlined the problem very clearly. Income levels in Manitoba remain low and the gap with competing provinces like Saskatchewan continues to widen. Due to our high personal tax framework, disposable incomes for Manitobans are lower than all other western provinces and Ontario. So we should not be surprised that the report also points to the fact that we are continuing to lose more people to other provinces than we attract.

We understand the pressures facing governments as we emerge from the economic storm that hit the world over the last couple of years, and as organizations try to assess how to survive in this new economic reality, a province like Manitoba must elevate its game.

Manitoba's opportunity over the next decade should be focused on the real prospect of a growing economy and a much larger tax base that comes with that growth. Creating a larger tax base will provide opportunity to pursue -- affordably -- a package of tax reforms and reductions that can further cement many of the province's recent economic gains.

In addition, by focusing on expenditure reductions and program efficiencies, provincial government spending can be repurposed into initiatives and economic development strategies that will enhance economic growth in the province.

The government had an opportunity to be bold and demonstrate a long-term vision for Manitoba. Instead, they chose to put off making the tough decisions for another time.


Brian Bowman is chairman of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce of Commerce.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 18, 2012 A11

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