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Tale of two political CVs

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BRANDON -- A few weeks ago, the Fraser Institute identified Premier Greg Selinger as the worst fiscal manager among Canada's premiers.

Free Press reader Mark Gavard responded to Selinger's ranking, saying in a letter to the editor, "It is my understanding that Premier Greg Selinger received his PhD in economics from the London School of Economics. If so, he failed to learn one important lesson: That is, you cannot continue to spend more than you earn."

The letter echoes questions from readers asking me how Manitoba's finances can be in such poor shape when the premier is an economist.

It is a valid question, but there is a flaw in the premise. Greg Selinger is not an economist. He has a PhD from the London School of Economics, but it is not in economics. It is in social policy and administration.

In other words, Manitoba's finances have not been managed for the past decade by a doctorate-level economist, but by a social worker.

Does that explain why Manitoba is deeper in debt than at any other time in our history? I don't know. I'm not an economist, and neither is Selinger.

What would cause Manitobans to believe the premier is an economist? The likely explanation is his biography on the Government of Manitoba website and often repeated in the media.

For more than a decade, it said that "Greg has a PhD from the London School of Economics, a master's degree in public administration from Queen's University and a bachelor of social work degree from the University of Manitoba."

By disclosing the subject areas of his bachelor's and master's degrees, but not the subject area of his PhD, it likely led some Manitobans to assume it is a doctorate in economics because of the name of the institution that granted the degree.

The premier's spokesman, Matthew Williamson, says the omission was an oversight. "We weren't aware this was an issue," he says. "But we have no problem adding more information to the website to specify that the premier's PhD is in social policy and administration from the London School of Economics and Political Science."

Selinger's biography was changed two days ago.

A similar situation exists in Brandon, where readers have questioned the accuracy of Mayor Shari Decter Hirst's educational accomplishments. One reader wrote " I tried to verify her credentials from the Rotman School of Management U of Toronto to no avail. Would be interesting to know her true curriculum vitae."

Her biography is found on the City of Brandon website and says "Mayor Decter Hirst is a graduate of Brandon University, the University of Saskatchewan, and the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Business." She has also claimed in published media reports that she is an accountant.

Decter Hirst has a health-care administration certificate from the University of Saskatchewan and a bachelor of general studies from Brandon University.

Attempts to verify her claim that she is a graduate of the prestigious Rotman School of Business resulted in this response from a school representative: "I cannot locate anyone by that name (or anything reasonably close) with a degree from Rotman, or anywhere else at U of T."

Another Rotman official confirmed that Decter Hirst had completed a "directors education program" offered by the Institute of Corporate Directors at several business schools, including Rotman. It is a 12-day "no-test, no-fail" series of seminars, spread over four weekends.

Appraised of this information, Decter Hirst said that "I have only ever said that I am a graduate of Rotman" and that "the directors education program is not a degree program."

When asked to verify her accounting designation, however, she admitted she is not an accountant. She says she completed some accounting courses in the early 1980s in the hopes of becoming an accountant, but never actually completed the program.

The parallel to Selinger's situation is obvious. Decter Hirst's claim she is a graduate of the Rotman School could lead Brandonites to assume her business education is something more substantial than 12 days of seminars. Then there is the fact she isn't the accountant she claimed to be.

Unlike Selinger, however, Decter Hirst has no intention to clarify the matter. Her spokesman says that "the mayor is comfortable with the level of information on her current biography page."

Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2013 A13

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