Can Manitoba do better?


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An employers group has released a report that shows Manitoba failing in almost every key economic indicator. A report with similar findings was released in advance of the last provincial election in 2011.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/04/2016 (2552 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

An employers group has released a report that shows Manitoba failing in almost every key economic indicator. A report with similar findings was released in advance of the last provincial election in 2011.

The NDP government might see it as a partisan attack that is out of context and selective in its use of statistics. The ideal response to the report by the Manitoba Employers Council (MEC), however, is for each political party to say what it will do to improve the province’s dismal profile.

The first step is for everyone to acknowledge there is a problem, despite reports from organizations such as the Conference Board of Canada, which say Manitoba’s economy will thrive and expand this year and next.

The conference board’s glowing report is based on anticipated growth in key sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, construction and the service industry, which includes government operations.

It’s a narrow analysis, compared to MEC’s report, which used 26 economic, taxation and government indicators to analyze the province’s progress from 2005 to 2014. The data were used to compare Manitoba with its Canadian competitors west of Quebec.

Of the five provinces analyzed, Manitoba ranked last in 16 indicators and fourth in seven. We were first in just one category, the small business corporate tax rate.

Is it unreasonable to expect the weakest province to outperform its beefier competition? Yes, perhaps, in some things. Manitoba, for example, has fewer head offices than all the other provinces in the survey, except Saskatchewan. That sort of makes sense.

Why does Manitoba have fewer businesses per capita than the other provinces, the lowest average weekly earnings, the highest personal income taxes, the lowest basic personal exemption and so on? Why do we spend less on research and development, and why are we No. 1 in terms of public-sector employment per capita?

More disturbing is the province’s record on high school graduation rates. According to the report, Manitoba is dead last “with the highest percentage of workers in the labour force without a high school degree.”

Manitoba is also last in terms of the number of workers with a university degree, as detailed in the MEC’s commentary on the page opposite. Together, the numbers suggest the workforce in other provinces is more educated and better prepared for the challenges of the future. It also suggests a higher degree of social cohesion, even in provinces such as Saskatchewan, which is similar to Manitoba in many ways.

The usual excuses for the province’s weaker performance are we do not have Ontario’s manufacturing heft, British Columbia’s beauty or the natural resources of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Of course, those provinces do not have Manitoba’s hydro resources, the only Arctic seaport in Canada with rail access, a diverse economy, a world-class arts community, 100,000 lakes and a national museum, among other things.

The business community says Manitoba needs to attract more private investment, which is difficult in the current high tax environment. Indeed, the rate of private investment is usually seen as a sign a city or province is prospering.

Tory Leader Brian Pallister has promised to eliminate bracket creep and raise the basic personal exemption.

Those measures are long overdue, but they alone will not change the province’s fortunes nor its reputation as a government town, where most of the jobs are in the public sector.

Manitoba may never compete with each one of its neighbours on key economic indicators, but that’s not an excuse for pretending the province is doing as well as can be expected.

The leaders of the three main political parties need to explain their vision and plan for improving the province’s mediocre record and replacing it with one of achievement and growth.

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