Proof of a ‘Better Manitoba’ could be hard to come by

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Gone is the green.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/05/2016 (2447 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Gone is the green.

When Premier Brian Pallister or any of his cabinet ministers make government announcements, you will see a new podium sign with a new slogan and new colours. Gone are the green signs featuring with the words “Steady Growth, Good Jobs” which became a hallmark of the NDP government. In its place, you will see a two-toned blue sign that says, “Manitoba’s New Government: Better Together.”

The new podium sign is a direct steal from the Progressive Conservative election campaign, which promised a “Better Plan for a Better Manitoba.” It’s not hard to see why the Tories would want to keep that theme going; voters responded by giving Pallister a resounding majority government.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Progressive Conservative leader Brian Pallister is sworn in as premier May 11.

Will the new slogan be extended to other government advertisements and marketing vehicles? It’s already being used as the backdrop on electronic monitors at news conferences, and the Twitter feed from central communications and cabinet ministers now features the hashtag #BetterTogether.

However, according to government officials, there are no plans to launch an official re-branding or a new slogan for the province. At least not yet. But if the new PC government were to make greater use of the two-toned blue sign and “Better Together” slogan, it would be well within the parameters of political tradition.

After 16 years of NDP government, it was difficult to figure out where election branding ended and government branding began. Election slogans like “Much Accomplished, More to Do” and “Building Together” morphed easily into government slogans such as “Steady Growth, Good Jobs.” There was nothing remarkable about that process; parties that triumph in elections and are offered the chance to form government do not suddenly or easily give up on the hyperbole used in the heat of electoral battle.

And while it remains to be seen whether Pallister will expand the use of the double blue and new slogan — remember, the PCs have pledged to dramatically reduce spending on government ads — you can be sure that in Monday’s speech from the throne, there will be lots of references to “Manitoba’s New Government” and its plans for a “better” Manitoba by working together.

Throne speeches do not only signal the beginning of a legislative session. They also allow the government of the day to establish the broad themes that it will pursue through programs and fiscal policy. This throne speech is a particularly important political event, an opportunity for the premier and his ministers to re-assure both those who voted for the Tories, and those who did not, that there are positive changes coming.

There will be some specific pledges mentioned in the speech. Every government tries to deliver on some low-hanging fruit to show it has the capacity to act on its promises. In this instance, you can be sure that Lt. Gov. Janice Filmon, who has the honour of annunciating the government’s plans in the throne speech, will deliver a few tantalizing nuggets dredged up from the Tory campaign platform.

However, Manitobans should prepare themselves for a pretty Spartan plan going forward. The throne speech comes at a time when Pallister has precious little in the way of time or fiscal room to make big changes right away.

Pallister has said repeatedly he has a mandate from Manitobans to lower taxes, improve government services and boost the economy. Although that is a fair description of the themes in the Tory election campaign, it is not necessarily a list of things he will accomplish in the first year of government. They are, in all fairness, goals that will take years to realize. And there are other complicating factors.

First, the province is currently operating without a budget plan for the current fiscal year. The NDP elected to bypass a formal budget and deliver instead a fiscal and economic outlook document that relied on broad strokes to describe the state of the treasury and government services. By now, most political insiders know this was done, in large part, to avoid having to reveal the full extent of the deficit.

Pallister’s government will get its chance to reveal just how bad things are when it delivers a budget in late May that will create an opportunity to formally deliver on some of the aforementioned low-hanging fruit. The throne speech will probably serve as a look ahead to that budget, with the mention of some modest tax measures, probably the promise to index income tax brackets. But otherwise, the speech and budget will spend more time focusing on the shortcomings of the former government than the vision of the new government. The deficit will be large, the economic outlook will be modest, and the demands on the Pallister government will be enormous.

It will be important to remember that Pallister’s rhetoric around beginning a new era of government, and sparking a better overall economic performance, is now wholly dependent on macro-economic conditions. That is not to say the Tories cannot be better at governing; all new governments should aspire to improve upon all aspects and outcomes of the previous governments. However, these are difficult times and proof of a “Better Manitoba” could be hard to come by if the economy, and thus government revenues, do not surge.

Monday is historic by any measure. It is the launch of a new government with a new focus and an expressed interest in doing things better. We should all hope Pallister is successful at making meaningful improvements in government performance and outcomes. Otherwise, all we’ll have is a lot more blue where once there was green.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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