Tories’ reassurances on poverty fall flat


Advertise with us

Leading up to the 2016 provincial election, Brian Pallister emphasized both party policies and his own personal opinions that suggested Manitobans concerned about poverty and other equity issues need not fear a Progressive Conservative government.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.


Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/07/2017 (2151 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Leading up to the 2016 provincial election, Brian Pallister emphasized both party policies and his own personal opinions that suggested Manitobans concerned about poverty and other equity issues need not fear a Progressive Conservative government.

During the leaders debate, for example, Pallister said poverty was the No. 1 issue facing our province. He even once mused that government may need to consider basic income programs as part of the solution to poverty in Manitoba. These sorts of pronouncements likely had the effect of defanging NDP attacks portraying the Tories, and Pallister in particular, as heartless.

Once in government, the Pallister government continued to promise action on poverty. In his first budget, Pallister promised that “providing safe, secure housing is a fundamental part of our approach to addressing poverty.”

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Families Minister Scott Fielding: '...obviously, anybody who is in critical or urgent need, we will prioritize these people.'

To date, though, the Tories have delivered mixed results on these files. On one hand, when the Canada child benefit — a direct transfer of funds from the federal government to low-income families — was introduced in 2016, anti-poverty activists worried the Manitoba government would claw back payments to recipients from provincial anti-poverty transfers such as Rent Assist or Employment and Income Assistance (EIA). But the government’s Families Minister Scott Fielding announced there would be no such clawback.

On the other hand, Pallister’s government froze the provincial minimum wage at $11 an hour shortly after taking office. The government’s current plan is to tie minimum wage increases to the rate of inflation. This plan, however, has an exception: the government may opt to freeze minimum wage again if Manitoba enters a recession.

This approach will ensure the Manitoba minimum wage remains at about the middle of the pack among provinces. Meanwhile, the Alberta and Ontario governments are moving toward a $15 hourly minimum wage, a position Pallister has publicly criticized.

Then June 2017 arrived, and the bottom seemed to fall out of the softer, more caring image cultivated by Pallister during the 2016 election campaign.

First, recipients of Rent Assist received one month’s notice that their rent subsidy would decrease. The change, which affects only those recipients who do not receive EIA benefits, alters the calculation used to determine the size of the monthly subsidy, from 25 to 28 per cent of monthly income.

A senior interviewed by a local media outlet estimated his monthly subsidy would, as a result of this change, decrease by roughly $58, a potentially significant amount for someone living on a fixed income with no ability to work. “Why attack the low-income people?” that recipient asked. “Leave us alone.”

Josh Brandon, chairman of the anti-poverty organization Make Poverty History, estimated the change would result in a single mother with two children seeing their monthly benefit cut from $119 to $49.

A few weeks later, the government acted again, freezing applications to the child-care inclusion program, which provides funds for hiring aides for special needs children in preschool. While children already approved would continue to receive support from an aide, all new applications would be rejected while the program underwent a review. Parents who were expecting the program to support their special-needs children in preschool were left scrambling to find alternate arrangements.

In the days following this announcement, the Free Press published profiles of two families who would be affected by the change. This and other critical media coverage was apparently too much for Pallister: after relaying that he had been summoned to the premier’s office, Fielding announced the freeze would be scrapped.

One can make two observations about these cases. First, these were cuts that were poorly and recklessly imposed. Rent Assist recipients were provided with only a month’s notice that their subsidy would decrease. This change will certainly require recipients to rethink their household budgets and cut back even further in the amount they spend every month. Why couldn’t the department have provided more notice?

With respect to the child-care inclusion program: why was it necessary for the minister to cease funding new applications when the program was under review? There may have been grounds for doing so if there were serious and legitimate concerns related to the well-being and safety of the children under supervision. This does not appear to be the case, however, since special-needs children currently receiving funding would continue to receive this necessary support.

While funding was restored to support children with special needs, there are other barriers for these children to attain quality education. Perhaps the next test of the Pallister government is whether it develops accessible education standards to remove all barriers for our youngest citizens.

In the end, though, the clumsy, questionable handling of these issues challenges the Tories’ reputations as effective managers and administrators. It also suggests that those Pallister sought to reassure during the last election campaign may indeed have some reason to fear his government.

Karine Levasseur and Royce Koop are associate professors in the department of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us