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September 25, 2011
Revitalizing Manitoba (Updated)
From Supplicant Society to Diversity and Dynamism
Revitalizing Manitoba: The Challenge
Manitoba society has many strengths. These include its friendliness and embrace of multiculturalism. But we are not yet living up to our potential.
Compared to most provinces:
• Incomes are low, but taxes are high.
• The provincial debt is already high, and getting worse.
• Our healthcare system is costly, but often performs poorly.
• Infrastructure is crumbling, and we lack the resources to fix it.
• There is a high rate of serious crime.
• Parts of our educational system receive ratings that are mediocre, or worse.
“Not enough oil and gas” is not an adequate excuse. There are resource-poor countries that are rich, and resource-rich countries that are poor. Furthermore, we are blessed with renewable hydro power capacity and much else.
We can and should strive to be a “have province”; one that is self-sufficient, has top-quality opportunities, public services and institutions, and that becomes a net importer of talented people from other provinces. Part of the obstacle to greater success is self-imposed. We can govern ourselves much better. In general, our society lacks balance and diversity. The provincial government has too much money And power compared to the rest of society. It tends to dominate and displace business, the non-profit sector and local government.
As a have-not province, Manitoba receives billions from the rest of Canada. The money goes straight into the provincial treasury. The provincial government then uses that money to increase its control or influence over the rest of society.
The equalization system promotes poor governance in another way. The worse a “have not” provincial economy performs the more money it receives from the rest of Canada. A provincial government that must derive its resources from its own economy has more of an incentive to promote growth and prosperity.
Our Healthcare Needs Less Bureaucratic Control, More Diversity and Innovation
• Manitoba’s healthcare system is expensive yet lags badly in delivering results.
• The Province has too much control over the operations of hospitals. The regional health authorities—provincial bureaucracies—have gone from funding hospitals to effectively running them.
• What we need instead is to return more power to individual hospitals, run by nonprofit organizations, and to patients and physicians.
• Medical and health professionals within such a diversified system would be freer to speak openly about problems and potential solutions.
• With more diversity and choice, there will be more innovation that would benefit patients.
Our Education System Should Focus on Choice For Parents and Teachers, Not Bureaucrats
• The province exerts too much control over local school boards.
• Innovation and improvement in education almost always emerge from the community level.
• We need funding and governance arrangements that reverse the flow towards centralized bureaucratic control.
• We need to create more choice and autonomy to local administrators, teachers, parents and children.
Respect For Local Government
• The province has largely resisted a “new deal for the cities”.
• Instead, the province can and has used its “power of the purse” to interfere with local decisions, sometimes for partisan objectives. Local government can be a source of new ideas and energy if they are allowed a reasonable measure of autonomy.
• Funding arrangements should be predictable and reward policies that promote prosperity and good governance.
Fair Political Competition
• The provincial government, as chief patron of business, health, education and the arts, already is in a position to influence votes with taxpayer money.
• Fiscal arrangements should minimize the opportunity for selective subsidies by government.
• Once in power, a party can also influence votes by using taxpayer money for selfserving advertising in the form of official government "information". This abuse should be banned, as it is in places like Ontario.
• It is undemocratic, and arguably unconstitutional, to allow the governing party to use public money for such partisan purposes while imposing significant legislative limits on the ability of opposition parties to spend money to get their own messages across.
Stop Muzzling The Watchdogs
• Premier Doer came to power partly because his predecessor, Gary Filmon, called a public inquiry into an election scandal involving his own party.
• In contrast, there have been no inquiries into the NDP’s “Rebategate” scandal, which could have affected the results of at least two elections; no public inquiry into the Crocus scandal, or into several notorious deaths involving child and family services, or the hospital system;
• There should be less partisan control over public inquiries;
• Administrative agencies and crown corporations should be more expert and independent;
• There should also be more opportunities for opposition parties to do their job in holding the government accountable, including more sitting days for the Legislative assembly and more resources for opposition caucuses.
Reform The Jurassic Crown
• Despite the original misgivings of the experts at Hydro itself, the province continues its plan to build the BiPole transmission line along the West Side at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars more than the cheaper, more secure East Side.
• Manitoba Hydro continues to fall short of acceptable governance standards of openness, transparency and accountability. Hydro’s rate structure does not sufficiently encourage conservation by heavy users and free up power for export.
• Hydro’s mandate should be clarified and its governance improved.
Sustainable Underdevelopment? Or a New Era of Diversity, Prosperity and Freedom?
• The Manitoba model of dependency on transfer payments from the rest of Canada is not sustainable.
• There is growing discontent in the rest of Canada with the current transfer payments system.
• As change is inevitable, Manitoba should be a proactive partner in promoting change, rather than reacting; to having change forced upon it.
• We should clearly and publicly state the objective of becoming a “have province” and begin the process of reform need to achieve it.
• In the meantime, we should support efforts to reform the transfer payment system so that it promotes self-sufficiency throughout the federation.
With vision and better governance, Manitoba can be a more prosperous and dynamic society. We can have first rate institutions and public services, commercial and non-profit sectors that are thriving, and become a place that attracts talented and hardworking people from everywhere in Canada, rather than being a net exporter of our young people to other provinces. A dynamic and diverse Manitoba would benefit disadvantaged members of our society as much or more than anyone. There would be more resources for public services, and government programs would be delivered in a way that respects individual dignity and choice.
Manitoba can achieve a new level of success. The path, however, requires a new openness on the part of the provincial government to diversity, freedom and innovation in our institutions and society.
is the Asper Professor of International Business and Trade Law at the University of Manitoba. He holds a LL.B. from Queen’s and a Master’s and Doctorate in law from Yale Law School. He is the author of seven books and over seventy academic articles in a wide variety of areas, including constitutional and international law, law and economics, Aboriginal law, human rights law, and law and literature. He is the inaugural editor of two journals: the Asper Review of International Business and Trade Law and Underneath the Golden Boy, an annual review of legislative developments in Manitoba. Over the years, he has received numerous awards and honours for teaching, research and community service. Bryan is also a practicing lawyer. He has been counsel to the Pitblado law firm since 1994, and appeared many times before the Supreme Court of Canada. He frequently advises governments, organizations and individuals on legal issues involving policy development or legislative reform. He has often appeared as a media commentator, and has published op-ed pieces in newspapers such as the Winnipeg Free Press, the Ottawa Citizen, and the Globe and Mail.