Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/5/2008 (3447 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was almost hidden in all the other political bafflegab.
Tucked away in all the language about a fixed election date and what political parties can spend on campaign advertising were new rules to regulate lobbyists.
It's called the Lobbyists Registration Act, and it was part of a huge package of proposed changes tabled in the Manitoba legislature almost two weeks ago, all intended to make the democratic process more open and fair even though the opposition says it does just the opposite.
Once law, it will require professional lobbyists to declare themselves publicly so Manitobans know just who is trying to influence their politicians and how. And Manitoba will become like a half-dozen other provinces — and Ottawa — that require lobbyists and advocacy groups to shine a light on how they operate.
In the same breath, Premier Gary Doer admits Manitoba is no Ottawa or Washington, D.C., and that lobbying here is done more by neighbours talking over a fence rather than big corporations hiring slick fast-talkers to get their bidding done over a golf game or lunch at a swanky restaurant.
In that sense, Doer may have just solved a problem that didn't really exist — and earned political points doing it. Lobbying does go on, and probably more often than you'd think, but it's done pretty much in the open. Businesses, unions and social groups that bend a cabinet minister's ear usually put out a press release right after, and they are only too happy to expound on their policy views into any open microphone.
Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen said registering lobby groups sounds good, except the new bill gives Doer and his cabinet, not the legislature, the power to hire and fire the registrar. He fears, given the practical realities of Manitoba politics, that could mean Doer will be able to pick up the phone and get an inside peek into who met with the opposition and why.
But we can pretty much tell you that right now anyway. The Free Press spent the past couple of weeks examining some of the top lobby groups in the province, what they want and how they get it.
Continued on B2
Keystone Agricultural Producers
"Farmers are bleeding a lot of red ink."
— President Ian Wishart
Who they are: The voice of Manitoba farmers
What they want: City-folk, tree-huggers, blue-suited businessmen and fork-tongued politicians to stop picking on them. Grain farmers are doing all right, but pork and cattle producers are under fire as of late due to market conditions and government environmental policies.
How they lobby: The typical way — meetings with politicians, commenting on legislation, chatting patiently with city slicker reporters. KAP is also looking at a public advertising campaign, including billboards, highlighting the meagre 14 cents that producers get for each loaf of bread they help bake.
What they've won: That depends on what you farm. The same market conditions that have hurt livestock producers — such as the steep cost of feeding animals and the high Canadian dollar — help grain and oilseeds producers whose crops have quickly become more valuable. The growing use of grain-based ethanol fuel means money in the pocket for many farmers, but it doesn't stay there long. Higher diesel fuel and fertilizer costs see that cash going right back out again.
What's next: KAP is lobbying the Manitoba government to remove its moratorium on the hog industry and to ensure its environmental plans for farms are fair.
United Firefighters of Winnipeg
"We need to get Gary Doer elected because we need to keep going forward."
— President Alex Forrest
Who they are: The loud and proud union that represents Winnipeg firefighters.
What they want: Changes in provincial and national building codes s o that new houses, with attached garages, are built to provide a better firewall between house and garage. The proposed change is in response to the deaths of firefighters Harold Lessard and Tom Nichols in a 2007 house fire in St. Boniface.
How they lobby: Forrest and his executive make no secret the union supports Gary Doer's government. In their bright orange T-shirts, they are an obvious presence at NDP conventions and political announcements, and they send out squads to door-knock for favourite candidates. Forrest also has never met a microphone he didn't like or missed an excuse to get on the front page.
What they've won: Manitoba firefighters, in 2001, became the first in North America to get legislation allowing firefighters to claim workers' compensation for specific types of cancer.
What's next: Funding to hire firefighters and build new stations in south and west Winnipeg where fire protection has not kept pace with residential development.
Association of Manitoba Municipalities
"Think of all the things tax dollars give you. I would bet that streets, bridges, water, sewers, recreation, police, fire departments and emergency measure organizations rate pretty high. People turn to us and expect a lot, but we have only eight per cent of total taxes collected to provide all those services."
— President Ron Bell
Who they are: A collection of all the province's 198 cities, rural municipalities and towns.
What they want: Recognition, backed by money and power, that cities and towns do a lot more than they did a generation ago and shouldn't be treated like irresponsible afterthoughts.
How they lobby: In a pretty low-key, professional way. The AMM meets with cabinet ministers and MLAs a lot — including a blitz last week. They prepare reports, hold conferences, put out a regular glossy magazine. "Our approach isn't to yell and scream but to say these are our issues and this is what we'd like you to do," said Bell.
What they've won: More of what they've always received — a little more money for roads, sewers, transit, police, bike paths. They've also won a share of the federal gas tax.
What's next: The big enchilada — a fundamental overhaul of the way cities are funded and the kinds of powers they have. That means more power to tax, or a no-strings-attached share of growth revenue like the PST and GST. All cities in Canada want this.
Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce
(and the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Business Council of Manitoba, the Retail Council of Canada . . .)
"We're a great place if you want to stay small. But if you want to grow, if you want to expand, if you're an international company and you have a branch office in Manitoba, we're the last place where you're going to want to (grow)."
— President Dave Angus
Who they are: The lobby group representing nearly 2,000 businesses big and small.
What they want: Generally the chamber wants more policies that promote business, economic and population growth — less red tape, more money for training, an end to the hated payroll and small business taxes, ways to keep young people in Manitoba.
How they lobby: However the Chamber does it, it's got the corner on the lobbying market, along with all the other business groups in town. There is probably no other single interest group in Manitoba that is as ubiquitous as business, though they might have more bite if they banded together.
What they've won: A fair bit, especially from a government that is desperate to obliterate the NDP's anti-business stereotype. Doer is solidly pro-business, and there have been small but steady tax cuts, including the recent batch in which Finance Minister Greg Selinger shaved overall business taxes by $120 million after cutting them by $93 million last year. Those are far from the bold moves business leaders were looking for but still a small step in the right direction.
What's next: Workforce development, like boosting immigration and training aboriginal people. Also downtown development and making Winnipeg vibrant.
Manitoba Heavy Construction Association
"It took many, many generations for us to get to where we are and it's going to take decades to improve it."
— President Chris Lorenc
Who they are: The lobby group that represents the contractors who build roads, bridges and sewers.
What they want: Funding from all levels of government to rebuild Winnipeg and the rest of the province's crumbling roads, highways and bridges. Funding also has to be earmarked for better trade routes in and around Winnipeg.
How they lobby: Lorenc represents the heavy hitters of the province's construction industry and spends a great deal of time pressing the flesh with those who can create work for his members. He either does it in the seclusion of a politician's office or at a public event. The former city councillor is also good in front of the TV camera.
What they've won: A building boom, not so much caused by their lobbying but by Mother Nature and the push for greener, renewable energy. Governments have dedicated about $6 billion to upgrading roads and bridges in Winnipeg and across the province over the next 10 years, and Manitoba Hydro has about a $12 billion building program in the works for the next decade. The industry is also coming off the $665-million Manitoba Floodway Authority's floodway expansion project.
What's next: The skilled labour shortage. Lorenc estimates the industry did between $750 million and $1 billion worth of work last year in the province. But he said it could have done 15 to 30 per cent more if it had enough skilled labourers and heavy-equipment operators.
Manitoba Nurses' Union
"Many nurses will attest to the fact that they can go to work and be mandated to stay for an extra eight hours. Refusing to stay because we have children at home or because we are too tired to properly care for our patients properly is not an option. We could lose our licence for abandoning our patients. How many Manitobans go to work wondering if they will be able to leave the same day?"
— President Maureen Hancharyk
Who they are: The union that represents just about every nurse in the province, 11,000 of them.
What they want: Higher wages to stay competitive with other provinces and a lot more nurses to fill more than 800 vacancies in the province which forces nurses to work incredible amounts of overtime.
How they lobby: In a word? Ads. The MNU already has the ear of the labour-friendly NDP government, but their most visible lobbying effort could be seen last spring in prime time television. They launched a series of artfully-produced ads touting the rosy state of health care just days before Doer called an election. That enraged the Tories, who called the ads pre-election NDP propaganda. That criticism seemed prescient less than a year later when the nurses came within inches of striking because, contrary to the portrait of health care painted before the election, hallway medicine was rampant and a nursing shortage was hobbling health care.
What they've won: Pretty much what they asked for — a 10 per cent wage hike over two years that keeps salaries competitive with other provinces but that most workers would kill for plus a base wage hike to ensure Manitoba nurses are the fourth highest paid in Canada.
What's next: Pushing the Doer government to make good on plans to hire hundreds more nurses.
Poplar River First Nation
"The land must be protected to sustain the culture and very life of our community, our people. Protection of the land is the key to our future."
- Poplar River First Nation vision statement
Who they are: One of the pivotal bands on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, home to about 900 people.
What they want: Control over their traditional lands, which cover a vast swath of the east side and its pristine boreal forest. They are adamantly opposed to any plan to build a Manitoba Hydro transmission line through their territory and instead want their lands to make up the bulk of a UNESCO World Heritage site celebrating and preserving the forest as a tourist destination.
How they lobby: That's a bit unclear. The band's chief is all but invisible, so the crusade is led by Lands Management Co-ordinator Ray Rabliauskas and his wife Sophia, an internationally recognized environmental and aboriginal activist.
What they've won: Essentially, veto power on the east side. In part to avoid a protracted legal battle, the Doer government's policy on the east side mirrors Poplar Rivers': No power line but a UNESCO site instead. That's despite growing calls from nearly every one of the other 15 bands on the east side who say they'd like to talk about a power line and the economic spin-offs one might provide to their poor reserves.
What's next: The band is working on a land-use plan for the vast swath of territory it claims as its traditional land along with leading the pitch to UNESCO for world heritage designation.
Manitoba Pork Council
"It was clear that the unfriendly business climate was a major obstacle."
— Chair Karl Kynoch
Who they are: Well-funded group representing Manitoba's hog industry
What they want: People everywhere to eat bacon for breakfast, ham sandwiches for lunch and barbecued pork chops for dinner. And support from government to keep what it won during its expansion a decade ago.
How they lobby: Loudly, but not well, at least lately. Despite their recent ad campaign and strong public criticisms of the provincial government, the pork council is in for a bigger fight that can be waged by hiring a PR consultant. It portrays itself as an industry that is mostly run by families, yet it cannot shake the image of smelly factory hog-barns and the pollution of Lake Winnipeg.
What they've lost. Lots, lately. The proposed Olywest plant collapsed. Tougher environmental rules in Manitoba and new import rules in the United States, plus high feed costs driven by the growing use of grain-based ethanol fuel, have devastated the industry. The Doer government also recently ordered a permanent moratorium on new or expanded pig production in the eastern, south central and Interlake farming regions of Manitoba, affecting two-thirds of the province. Plans are also in the works to euthanize as many as 25,000 weanlings a week starting soon because of a severe over-supply of animals as new trade rules cause confusion among U.S. hog buyers.
What's next: Survival.
University of Manitoba Students' Union
(and the University of Winnipeg Students' Association and the Red River College Students' Association . . .)
"We've seen a huge increase in the number of students using our food bank . . . We've seen students having a hard time paying for school."
— UMSU President Gary Sran
Who they are: The elected officials who represent 22,000 undergrads at the U of M.
What they want: Lower tuition, more bursaries and loans, more funding for schools.
How they lobby: Along with student leaders at the U of W, they're pretty good at getting media attention, and they host an annual tuition protest at the Legislature. Plus they have the backing of a vocal national student organization.
What they've won: Last month, they were probably the luckiest student leaders in Canada — nine years of a tuition freeze. All that ended — sort of — with word the Doer government was giving students one more year of the freeze and then hiking rates in Sept. 2009. Universities are getting more funding, though.
What's next: A year-long campaign to get the province to change its mind and keep the freeze.
Bike to the Future
(and Critical Mass)
"We envision a city where cycling is embraced as the preferred mode of transportation, where cycling is integrated into urban design and planning and where Winnipeg is recognized as a leader in cycling infrastructure and programs."
— Bike to the Future vision statement.
Who they are: A loose coalition of mostly young
What they want: Better bike paths, basically.
How they lobby: The old-fashioned way — they take to the streets. A couple of summers ago, the long-stalled campaign for better bike paths got a huge shot in the arm when a gaggle of cyclists known as Critical Mass staged a series of rush-hour rides throughout the city. There were arrests, but after the hubbub died down, the group coalesced into a more formal advocacy group. Also bolstering their case is the tireless Janice Lukes of the Winnipeg Trails Association who is a thorn in city hall's side.
What they've won (: In the last couple of years, politicians have been falling all over themselves to fund better cycling infrastructure, partly because it's the cheap and easy way to embrace green transportation without actually building a rapid transit system. Every week, there's a new funding deal for a new path somewhere in Winnipeg. Pretty much every other environmental group could learn a little something from the bike folks.
What's next: Real commuter bike paths that help people get to work, not just toodle around parks on a nice afternoon. And a formal promise to dedicate a portion of all road spending, maybe three to five per cent, to bike paths.
Social Planning Council of Winnipeg
(and the Winnipeg Harvest food bank)
"We know the 'what.' We produce the tables and charts and figures telling us all about who is poor. We don't know the 'why.' Why do we allow this? Why is it we seem to be kind of agreeable to this circumstance? It's become habitual."
— Director Wayne Helgason
Who they are: An agency that dates back to the 1919
Winnipeg General Strike that lobbies and does research on poverty, homelessness, racism and other social scourges.
What they want: A host of things — a real plan to tackle poverty, a hike to the minimum wage and welfare rates, more housing programs, more community recreation.
How they lobby: Petitions, press conferences, meetings with ministers and city councillors and a recent series of bus ads calling for a heftier minimum wage. They also do a lot of original research which gets them attention. Helgason, with his black leather jacket, is the city's go-to-guy on poverty and social issues, along with Winnipeg Harvest boss David Northcott.
What they've won: Some small things, like pretty decent progress on housing, but not nearly as much as you'd think under a left-leaning provincial government. No one really talks about poverty in Winnipeg.
What's next: More of the same.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
"We can't continue to operate the way we are. Period. We need new opportunity and new revenue streams and that can only come with a new facility because this ol' girl has seen its day."
— President Lyle Bauer
Who they are: Winnipeg's CFL football team and the guys who run it.
What they want: A 2008 Grey Cup. Then a new stadium deal. And after that the 2009 Grey Cup. And then moving into the new stadium. Then a 2010 Grey Cup.
What they've lost: The 2007 Grey Cup, but that's water under the bridge, right Ryan? They've also lost a shot at a shovel in the ground this spring for a new stadium. The estimated $145-million cost of the stadium deal, which includes a retail component, has ballooned to $165 million because it's taking so long to get a funding commitment from the Harper government. CanWest executive vice-president David Asper, the big wheel behind the new stadium, has said negotiations with Ottawa and the province have stalled.
How they lobby: Tell the God's honest truth and let Bomber Nation do it for them. The old stadium stinks, and those of us who sit there season after season, including the premier, know it all too well.
What's next: Slotback Milt Stegall gets his 197 yards to break Allen Pitts' all-time CFL receiving yardage record of 14,891.
Winnipeg Chamber of
(and the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce,
Canadian Taxpayers Federation,
Canadian Federation of Independent Business,
the Business Council of Manitoba,
the Retail Council of Canada... )
WHO THEY ARE: The lobby group representing
nearly 2,000 businesses big and small.
WHAT THEY WANT: Generally the chamber
wants more policies that promote business,
economic and population growth — less red
tape, more money for training, an end to the
hated payroll and small business taxes, ways
to keep young people in Manitoba.
HOW THEY LOBBY: However the chamber
does it, it's got the corner on the lobbying
market, along with all the other business
groups in town. There is probably no other
single interest group in Manitoba that is as
ubiquitous as business, though they might
have more bite if they banded together.
WHAT THEY'VE WON : A fair bit, especially
from a government that is desperate to obliterate
the NDP's anti-business stereotype. Doer
is solidly pro-business, and there have been
small but steady tax cuts, including the recent
batch in which Finance Minister Greg Selinger
shaved overall business taxes by $120 million
after cutting them by $93 million last year.
Those are far from the bold moves business
leaders were looking for but still a small step
in the right direction.
WHAT'S NEXT: Workforce development, like
boosting immigration and training aboriginal
people. Also, downtown development and
making Winnipeg vibrant.