BRANDON -- Last weekend, Manitoba's New Democratic Party released a television advertisement attacking Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister.
The ad is a series of false and misleading statements. Even more disturbing is the fact the NDP seeks to bolster the veracity of its message by trading on the credibility of both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun.
The ad cites the March 12, 1999, edition of the Free Press as the "source" for the claim that "as a former cabinet minister in Filmon's PC government, (Pallister) helped cut 1,000 nurses and 700 teachers."
For more than 13 years, that lone news report has served as the basis for accusations that Gary Filmon's Tories "fired" 1,000 nurses. It is time to set the record straight.
The Free Press report does not reveal the firing of nurses, but rather the creation of a $7-million fund to hire nurses. It contains the assertion that the Filmon Tories "eliminated 1,100 nursing jobs" in the previous six years, but that is a summary of the position taken by the opposition NDP and the nurses' union in that and earlier reports.
The allegation the Filmon government callously fired 1,000 nurses on an ideological whim is simply wrong and a misrepresentation of history.
It is a matter of public record that severe cutbacks in federal-provincial transfer payments by the Chrétien government forced the Filmon Tories to make painful spending decisions. They could not match the hefty pay increases other jurisdictions were offering nurses at the time. The March 12, 1999, Free Press report documents their effort to fight back against the poaching of nurses.
The NDP ad cites the "standing committee on social and economic development, June 3, 1996" as the basis for its claim that the Filmon government "cut 700 teachers." The assertion, however, is both inaccurate and misleading. The committee referred to is a legislature committee made up of MLAs from the various parties. The transcript the NDP is referring to is dated June 3, 2010, not June 3, 1996.
Nowhere in the 26-page transcript does the committee conclude the Filmon government cut 700 teaching positions. Rather, the document contains the text of a letter from Pat Isaak, then president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society, in which she states that during the 1990s, "we lost more than 700 teaching positions" -- an assertion that was neither challenged nor validated by the committee.
The fact is that the Filmon government did not fire a single teacher during its mandate. It neither possessed the legal power to do so nor directed Manitoba's school divisions to do so. While some school boards may have reduced teaching positions (mostly through attrition) because of declining enrolment and an unwillingness to raise property taxes, other school divisions were hiring teachers.
The NDP's ad identifies a report in the February 27, 1996, Winnipeg Free Press as the source for its claim that "the Conservatives tried to carve off and privatize home care," but private home health care already existed in 1996 and still exists today under our NDP government.
Finally, the ad relies upon "Winnipeg Sun, Oct. 17, 2012, PC speeches & releases April 2013" as the basis for its assertion that "Pallister's plan is to cut again -- half a billion dollars from the services Manitoba families count on and from construction for new schools, roads, hospitals and flood control."
In fact, the Oct. 17, 2012, Winnipeg Sun contained a news report entitled More has to be done to help poor: Pallister. In that report, he expressed his concern over Manitobans' growing reliance on food banks and promised a massive increase in the employment and income-assistance rental allowance offered to Manitobans living on social assistance.
In a press release dated April 18, 2013, Pallister proposed almost $287 million in spending cuts as an alternative to the PST increase, but none of those cuts would come at the expense of health, education, roads or flood control.
It is fair game for one political party to expose the weaknesses of its opponents, but the use of false and misleading claims often backfires, with disastrous results. As the NDP works to restore its credibility with Manitobans, it would be wise to keep that in mind.
Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.