By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government served notice Thursday it is set to follow through on promises to curb public-sector wages, reduce the number of health care bargaining units and possibly raise post-secondary tuition fees.
The Tories announced that they intend to introduce a half-dozen bills on Monday that are part of their plan to start chipping away at the province’s billion-dollar deficit.
“You could say their true colours are beginning to emerge,” Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said of the Conservatives 11 months after they defeated the New Democrats in a provincial election.
“There’s no doubting (Premier Brian Pallister’s) ideological orientation. It’s very much towards less government, lower taxes, deregulation, more emphasis on job creation and … the creation of wealth and less on the redistribution of wealth.”
The government cited parliamentary protocol in refusing to provide details in advance of the bills being introduced in the legislature Monday. But the bill’s titles line up with promises made during last year’s election campaign and plans outlined broadly last fall.
The Public Services Sustainability Act is expected to be the outcome of Pallister’s promise in last November’s throne speech to control the growth of public-sector wages. In talks with public-sector union leaders, government representatives have floated possibilities such as unpaid days off, wage freezes and reduced pension benefits.
Pallister also promised to ensure the province’s ability to pay for wage increases was factored into contract talks.
“We have been having some meetings with government but they haven’t been all that thorough or very detailed,” Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said Thursday.
“They kind of had this list of things they were looking at, but they really have not been clear at all with us about what we might expect.”
The government is also set to bring forward the Health Sector Bargaining Unit Review Act, three months after Pallister said a high number of union locals in health care makes it cumbersome to negotiate contracts.
And Education Minister Ian Wishart is to amend the act that governs, among other items, tuition rates at post-secondary institutions. Tuition increases are currently limited to the inflation rate. An undergraduate degree in Manitoba costs about $2,000 less than the national average.
Wishart said last fall he was eyeing higher tuition fees to give universities and colleges more funding and to provide for higher bursaries for low-income students.
Also on the schedule for Monday are amendments to Manitoba’s election financing rules. Pallister said in December he was considering raising political donation and spending limits.
Pallister and Wishart would not discuss the bills with reporters at the legislature Thursday.