By Don Radford
The Manitoba government could save local governments both time and money by streamlining the provincial bureaucracy, a Progressive Conservative pre-budget consultation was told in Winkler last Thursday.
Area mayors, reeves, councillors, and economic development and chamber of commerce representatives didn't pull any punches when given the opportunity to voice their views on the upcoming provincial budget. While the April 5 meeting produced some observations about the budget, much of the two hour morning meeting focused on costly and time-consuming government regulations.
Tory finance critic Heather Stefanson (Tuxedo) and area MLAs Cameron Friesen (Morden-Winkler), Blaine Pedersen (Midland) and Cliff Graydon (Emerson) met with about two dozen local government and business representatives who said the provincial government needed to act to help local issues, programs and projects be dealt with more quickly and more cheaply.
Lamenting the $1.2 billion provincial deficit, Stefanson said that while all levels of government have roles to play in delivering programs and services to Manitobans, governments also have to ensure that those programs and services are effective.
"How many of those programs are working?" she asked.
The provincial government, she continued, is not living within its means.
"Every time the government spends, it is adding to the debt of the province," she said. That, in turn, reduces the amount of money available to needed programs.
Winkler Mayor Martin Harder agreed, saying that more of the departmental budgets are needed to address and meet those regulations which in turn reduces the amount of money those government departments have for the programs they fund.
"The government never looks at their departments to see what efficiencies can be made and how to streamline the processes," Harder said.
For example, he said, he government continuously increases funding to address problems in areas such as child care, health and education.
"But those problems have not gone away. The government is spending more money internally," he said.
In agreeing with Harder's observations, Stefanson said she would be following the Alberta government's lead and introducing a private member's bill calling for a review of all government programs in Manitoba.
"We need to review where the money is going. We need to stop throwing money at programs that are not working," she said.
RM of Rhineland deputy reeve Paul Peters also took issue with government bureaucracy and departmental spending, saying his municipality is frustrated with the lack of action on bridge replacement and of being turned down when it offered to do the work itself, and at a considerably lower cost.
Morden Mayor Ken Wiebe weighed in with his town's frustration with government bureaucracy. He told Stefanson and her fellow Tories of the Town of Morden's attempt to rezone a 1000 foot strip of land near Lake Minnewasta but being stymied when the provincial government decided that a study of the lake's drainage basin was required.
"They want a study done of a 46 square mile catchment area for one thousand feet of shoreline," Wiebe said. "These kind of requirements are a huge cost."
He went on to say that the government's deficit spending will be to the detriment of all Manitobans.
"Give us (area cities, towns and rural municipalities) just one per cent of that billion dollar deficit and the things we could do with it.....".
Town of Altona CAO Russ Phillips offered an example of the frustration that town is experiencing. He said the town wants to erect a "welcome" sign near Hwy 30 but is unable to get the go-ahead from Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation.
"Just give us the authority to do what we need to do," he said.
Carman Mayor Bob Mitchell complained about the size of bureaucracy of the Central Region RHA, saying patient care and services were decreasing while the health care administration was increasing.
He also questioned the effectiveness of the RHA governance model, saying it appeared appointed board members had little influence and input.
Morden-Winkler MLA Cameron Friesen suggested Premier Greg Selinger was using two smokescreens - an economic downturn and 2011 flood costs - to cover up misspending by his government. He said Manitoba largely escaped the economic downturn and the unexpected flood costs of $490 million are less that half the projected billion dollar plus deficit.
"The Premier says flood costs are holding us (the province) back. Nonsense," Friesen said.
Emerson MLA Cliff Graydon told the meeting participants that their message was clear.
"We understand what you are saying," he said, adding that the Conservatives will work to streamline government, reduce the costs that come with increased regulations and consultations, and work to ensure that more money goes into infrastructure.
"Today's pre-budget consultation was about providing a context for local leaders to express concerns and provide concrete examples of the challenges they face in delivering services," said MLA Friesen.
"It's obvious that the challenges faced by our local leaders are compounded by the NDP government's colossal failure to match spending to revenue. I was pleased with the participation and discussion at today's session, and I will be continuing to work with local officials to get their message across in the upcoming Legislative session."