By Chinta Puxley, The Canadian Press
Manitoba’s new Conservative government outlined its top priorities for its first months in office, promising to cut government spending and establish a task force to reduce health care wait times.
In the government’s first speech from the throne Monday, Premier Brian Pallister reiterated promises made during the recent election campaign which swept the Tories to office for the first time since 1999. The five-page speech was short by design, Pallister said.
“We need to focus on some key areas immediately – they’re urgent. They’re important,” Pallister told reporters. “We are going to do our best to address some dangerous situations that we have noted, to undo some damage that has occurred.”
As promised, the government will conduct a “value-for-money audit” across the bureaucracy with an eye to reducing spending by $50 million. The province will immediately take steps to join the New West Partnership trade agreement with Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia and develop a literacy plan for students.
The throne speech also promised to reduce ambulance fees and establish a task force to “reduce the time that Manitobans spend waiting for specialized or emergent care.”
There was no mention of rolling back the provincial sales tax hike which precipitated the decline of the previous NDP government but the speech repeated the Tory promise to reinstate a referendum on major tax increases.
With a fiscal update coming on Wednesday and a budget May 31, Pallister said the focus of the new government is to reel in spending and eventually eliminate the deficit.
“You don’t turn a canoe fast. There is a cargo there that we have to remember is precious and that’s our front-line services,” he said. “These are course corrections. Correcting the course has to happen.”
The throne speech suggested the Tories will begin consultations with the federal government and provinces to develop a climate change plan which will include some form of carbon pricing and reduction of emissions. Pallister declined to go into detail about any elements of the plan, saying more research must be done.
“I’m not going to brainstorm with you today,” he said.
The Tories are also taking aim at unions early on, requiring a secret ballot for workplace unionization and allowing non-unionized companies to bid on government tenders.