Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/11/2019 (216 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Are the priorities of the Manitoba government in line with Manitobans more broadly? This is the question asked last week by a diverse group of community volunteers representing teachers, health-care professionals and those concerned about climate change, poverty and income inequality.
They were comparing the vision presented in the recent speech from the throne with what they have been hearing in workplaces and communities while working toward the upcoming 2020 alternative provincial budget (APB).
APB volunteers are learning there’s support for a fair distribution of income and wealth, restoring labour rights, protecting public services, protecting the environment with a just transition to green jobs, and reconciliation with Indigenous communities.
Some of these goals could be seen as compatible with the guarantees in the throne speech (lower taxes, new jobs, better health care sooner, new schools and a made-in-Manitoba climate and green plan). But a closer reading of the speech raises differences in approach and focus. For example, this government is changing our tax system to put "more money on the kitchen table," but these changes will see wealthy people benefit substantially more than the rest of us.
The promised 2020 tax rollback guarantee, will, through a variety of tax changes, supposedly put $2,020 on every kitchen table by 2020. But these sorts of tax "breaks" give the most to those who are already well off, while doing little to help those who actually need it. While every dollar counts for low-income people, they see a disproportionally smaller portion of the benefit when, if the intent is to reduce income inequality, they should be getting more.
The guarantee states Manitobans will save $1.78 billion, but what is saved is also lost: the province will have that much less to invest in services such as health care, education and fighting climate change. It makes more sense to say that by 2020, each Manitoban will lose access to public services worth $2,020, and that loss will hit marginalized people harder.
The government plans to "direct youth in trouble with the law to appropriate community programs and services..." But its austerity measures have made it much more difficult for those community groups to help youth with the education and training they need to enter the labour market. Our schools, and our front-line social service agencies that come face-to-face with child poverty in Manitoba, continue to struggle with provincial retrenchment, and it still a mystery how this government will fund education after it removes the education portion of the property tax.
Similarly, agencies serving the homeless, those struggling with addictions and victims of domestic violence are struggling with increasing demand and reduced funding. When agencies can’t support our most vulnerable, we shouldn’t be surprised that some end up involved in crime, "gang life and disorder" and, inevitably, put pressure on the health-care system. The words "poverty" or "income inequality" do not appear once in the throne speech, despite the fact it is poverty that is driving instances of crime and addiction — words that do appear in abundance.
Mandate letters going to post-secondary institutions could have a devastating effect on the humanities, social sciences and fine arts — areas of study fundamental to civil society and critical thinking. The coming new legislation to replace the Civil Service Act says it will include ideas from front-line service providers. After the disastrous top-down health-care reforms so far, we can forgive nurses and members of the civil service for wondering if they really will be consulted.
In addition to the cuts and privatization, the embracing of internal trade agreements that lower labour standards will further undermine good jobs and increase inequality. Certainly, any economic growth that may arise from these agreements will not, as claimed, be shared equally by all. Similarly, the loss of project labour agreements will make it harder for workers to train for decent jobs and to ensure that wages and safety standards are sufficient.
The throne speech also undermines good jobs through additional public service reductions, despite worries that Manitoba Hydro’s struggle to cope with October’s big storm was in part the result of the loss of so many Hydro workers.
Finally, details about how the Progressive Conservatives will respond to the climate emergency are woefully sparse. Lack of action, especially around electrifying our transportation sector — which should be the foundation of a just transition and addressing the climate crisis — is particularly frustrating.
The direction taken in the throne speech is fundamentally different from what we will see with the APB. But that isn’t surprising: the APB team is actually sitting around the proverbial kitchen table, and there’s no throne in sight.
Lynne Fernandez holds the Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and is working on the 2020 Alternative Provincial Budget with community partners.
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.