Tory leader Brian Pallister's plans to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from provincial expenditures is a good one. Mr. Pallister promises his party, if elected, would cut $287 million by chopping civil service jobs, re-organizing departments and buying supplies and services smarter.
The plan's broad calculations produces hopeful targets, but the Conservatives are right, in principle, to focus on the uncontrolled spending of an NDP administration that, since 1999, has sought to fill every outstretched hand. That imprudent spending has led to unnecessary deficits and, inevitably, to the toppling of the balanced budget law's last pillar, which will see a PST hike rammed through without a public referendum.
The Tories' $287-million goal is optimistic, but the room for substantial savings was proven by the NDP's own budget last week: Trimming departmental spending in 2012/13 saved $128 million, it said, illustrating the magnitude of waste that has supported the perennial spending spree.
Mr. Pallister says his plan illustrates the hike to the PST, and the $277 million it raises, is not required to invest more in infrastructure spending, as the NDP asserts. The Tories, however, would reverse the PST increase.
Mr. Pallister is half-right. Stripping away imprudent spending is responsible government. Further, it is critical to taming Manitoba's perilously rising debt. But getting the provincial books back to even won't check the steep growth in the infrastructure deficits among municipalities -- Winnipeg's crumbling streets, bridges and facilities alone require a $3.8-billion investment.
The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce (see page opposite) denounced the NDP's duplicitous PST-hike scheme, which will largely replace a piece of current infrastructure spending. Further, it will support construction of schools, hospitals and playgrounds -- rich fodder for future election campaign announcements.
The chamber wants the province to give municipalities their own consumption tax, to fund pre-determined infrastructure priorities supported by a public referendum. It is a reasonable option, as is transferring to municipalities, not the province, the additional revenue from one point of PST, following a referendum.
The NDP's plan will give a pittance to Manitoba's towns and cities, which bear the brunt of decaying infrastructure. The Tories' plan should recognize the need for new revenue to municipalities, which know best where to spend the cash.