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Opinion

Pallister wants us to be 'the most improved province' -- but how do you measure that?

Even Pallister admitted that it'll be hard

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/5/2016 (1413 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It is a little known fact among people outside government that every speech from the throne delivered in the Manitoba Legislature ends with the same sentence.

"I trust that Divine Providence will guide your deliberations in the best interests of all our citizens," the Lieutenant Governor of the day will proclaim at the conclusion of the throne speech. Sometimes, there are a few additional flourishes added in, but for the most part, the LG finishes with the same thought.

This is a political tradition that dates back in Manitoba to the 1920s, and is repeated in the House of Commons in Ottawa, and most of the provincial legislatures as well. It is also a reminder that for journalists, reviewing a throne speech is very much an exercise in deja vu.

Throne speeches tend to be collections of vague, somewhat poetic statements about the government’s plans over the next legislative session. And for the most part, all governing parties regardless of ideology or colour want to accomplish the same things: better outcomes in health and education; a stronger economy; a happier and more content electorate.

The speech from the throne delivered Monday to official commence the 41st session of the Manitoba Legislature was really no different. The speech was a elegant mash-up of campaign pledges and priorities that most political journalists have already committed to memory after covering the spring election. And, yes, there was a sincere wish from the LG that God’s hand would guide the new government in all it does.

However, much to the glee of a few veteran journalists, there were a couple of fresh bits thrown into the mix. Premier Brian Pallister announced that his first budget will be tabled May 31. The new premier also surprised a bit when he referenced a "made-in-Manitoba" carbon pricing protocol, details of which will come later this year.

However, the freshest, and perhaps the most intriguing new thought was a promise by "Manitoba’s New Government" (as it now demands to be called) to make Manitoba "the most improved province in all of Canada."

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Premier Brian Pallister chats with reporters before his throne speech in the House Monday.</p></p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister chats with reporters before his throne speech in the House Monday.

"Most improved" is an odd category on which to judge a government’s performance. Professional sports often celebrates the accomplishments of most-improved players by assessing the difference in statistical performance from season to season. Sometimes, the award is given to a player who was able to revive a career that seemed to be on the edge of extinction.

But "most improved province?" How could anyone measure a province’s performance on the basis of most improved? Even Pallister admitted that it will be a challenge, pledging to work to establish comparative methdology that is fair and accurate. "We want to look for genuine comparatives that are fair so that we can rise to the challenge and adopt better practices and best practices so that we get better results from the other provinces."

Pallister did acknowledge that in some areas, comparing government performance or outcomes in any one area could "statistically be comparing apples to oranges." However, he was not able on Monday to define what areas needed new metrics and methodologies, and which could rely on existing methods of comparison.

The problem is, national comparisons are tricky matters in a country that features provinces with great variations in population and economic capacity.

For example, it is well known that Manitoba hospitals perform poorly in national comparisons of emergency room wait times. It is a problem the previous NDP government worked hard to improve, but the results in the annual Canadian Institutes of Health Information (CIHI) showed very little progress. Or so it seemed.

The first problem is that Manitoba provides CIHI with incomplete information. Currently, the province does not send CIHI numbers from rural hospitals, where patient loads and wait times are much lower than facilities in Winnipeg. That certainly does nothing to help the province’s overall performance. As well, wait times on their own do not reveal the entire outcome story. Even those Winnipeg hospitals with some of the longest ER wait times had among the lowest rates of re-admission, which is a major measurement of the quality of care.

National comparisons are also very tricky when applied to fiscal matters. You can compare tax regimes by province, for example, but it is empirically unfair to compare tax rates and loads in smaller, oil-consuming provinces to larger, oil-producing ones. Comparing Manitoba tax rates to Alberta’s, for example, is a little entering an Austin Mini in a truck-pulling contest and then complaining about the wee car’s lack of torque. Not a fair comparison.

It would be a tremendous accomplishment if this or any future government could improve overall outcomes in key program areas such as health and education. There are endemic problems that affect both of those portfolios that often confounded the previous government. Can a new government with fresh sets of eyes find solutions where the previous government could not? All citizens should wish Pallister well in that endeavour.

Whether or not those advances would qualify Manitoba as "most improved" seems hardly relevant. More important is being able to do better each year than we did the year before. That should be the mantra of every government.

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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History

Updated on Monday, May 16, 2016 at 5:51 PM CDT: adds photo, video

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