Premier Brian Pallister told a business audience Thursday that fixing the province's finances is "hard slogging," an effort that requires countless small decisions that add up to big savings.

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Premier Brian Pallister told a business audience Thursday that fixing the province's finances is "hard slogging," an effort that requires countless small decisions that add up to big savings.

"We're fixing (the finances) carefully and we're fixing them gradually, but we're fixing them," he told an audience of 1,200 at his annual state of the province address, sponsored by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

"This isn't just $10-million decisions. It's thousands and thousands of $50,000 decisions," he said.

Although many thought the premier would use his speech to tout the province's new economic growth action plan, Pallister made only passing reference to it towards the end of his 40-minute talk. He told the crowd to look at a website for more information about the plan.

Eschewing the podium, the premier sat in a chair on stage in the cavernous hall in the new section of the RBC Convention Centre, speaking informally and peppering his speech with anecdotes. His main message was that his administration is willing to roll up its sleeves and examine every aspect of government and look for efficiencies, which he said would save money and improve service.

He bristled at the term "austerity" to sum up his government's approach in improving the province's bottom line, saying the Tories have increased spending in health by $700 million over the past two years, and expanded the budgets of the departments of families and education.

"We're investing in the most compassionate departments of government because these are demand-driven portfolios," he said.

During his more than two years as premier, Pallister has been known to speak as enthusiastically about the small things government can do to improve efficiency as the big things. He said he learned long ago the importance of "paying attention to the small stuff."

For instance, the government installed GPS locators in government vehicles close to two years ago. The information it gleaned led it to reduce the number of government vehicles by 20 per cent and save close to 10 per cent on fuel, he said.

He also said because of various efficiencies, the province is able to build seven new schools in the coming year for the price of five.

The premier has been encouraging civil servants to give the government ideas about how to do things more efficiently, and promised Thursday to put another $20 million into a pot to carry out their best ideas.

He also defended the government's use of outside consultants. The Free Press recently found that since the Tories came to office in 2016, the government has spent more than $16 million to give it advice on an array of policy issues, from health care reform to the horse racing industry.

"We've invested in consulting... firms that know about best practices, that understand, because they've looked at the global situation, how we can become the best at what we do," he told the crowd.

"We need to understand that investing in expertise is important. It shapes our future," he said.

Pallister boasted that during the past year, Manitoba has led the country in vehicle sales, real estate investment, farm cash receipts, wage growth and private-sector investment. At the same time, Winnipeg emergency room wait times have trended downward, he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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