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Looking to the Future with a Change in Manitoba’s Leadership

February 14, 2016 8:02 AM | Columns

By Ken Waddell, myWestman

Manitoba Legislative Building

(Manitoba Legislative Building image via Shutterstock)

NEEPAWA, Man. — It’s barely 60 days until the April 19 Manitoba election. The legislature is scheduled to sit for a few days in between. Many cabinet ministers and sitting MLAs (mostly on the government side) aren’t going to run again. It looks like there could be a change in government. Most people predict the new legislature will look much different than the current one. Most predict that all three parties will have some representation in the legislature.

Seeing as it is 17 years since the NDP took power, common sense would say that there should be a change in government. Governments get stale, complacent and just plain tired. It has happened many times in our Canadian democracy. Governing needs fresh ideas. In contrast to the United States where election campaigns are a carried on non-stop it seems, we in Canada at least only have to endure them every so often.

Manitoba definitely needs to change how we do things. We a have a unique geography and a unique set of demographics. Much of Manitoba is basically uninhabitable. We didn’t make it that way. It’s been obvious for centuries. We have vast expanses of land that can’t produce enough food or the variety of food needed to sustain even a modest population. It’s simply too expensive to transport stuff to and from many parts of Manitoba. Huge expanses of beautiful forests and trees and lakes cover much of our province. That land will support hunting, fishing and tourism. However, most people aren’t able or willing to live in that kind of environment all the time. Hence, much of Manitoba is not highly populated. Efforts to sustain a large population in many areas are geared to propping up a false economy. Take out the government spending from many of our remote communities and there would be little or no economic activity. It’s simply not practical to grow food or manufacture goods in many parts of our province. It’s sad, but it’s true. You can’t grow crops or livestock easily in our northernmost parts of Manitoba. That’s not a judgement on the people or the area, the conditions were set down by the ice age many thousands of years ago.

Manitoba also has nearly three quarters of its population in, or centred around, Winnipeg. It was a dumb place to build a city due to the flooding, but that decision was made a long time ago. Much of Winnipeg should have been built on higher ground, but we can’t go back now. The size of Winnipeg and the reality that 75 per cent of the population calls Winnipeg home makes for skewed politics. In the bluntest of terms, it doesn’t matter what rural or northern Manitoba wants, it’s the city vote that calls the shots.

For some reason, rural and northern folks seem to see the need for change long before Winnipeg people do. There’s likely good reason for that. Life, community activities, livelihoods are rarely under threat as often in the city as they are in rural and northern communities. If the store in a northern community runs out of food, you are out of food. In the city, any food shortage would likely be very localized and temporary. The same goes for any goods or services. Life has often been more tenuous in rural and northern communities. Life is harder outside the city in so many respects. That’s why people tend to migrate to the cities. It’s a fact of life in every country in the world.

Seeing the need for change may come to the city folks this year. Spending more and more money on health care and education isn’t making the kinds of progress people need and demand. Elected on the issue of eliminating hospital wait times, the NDP have poured billions into health care and we still have unconscionable wait times. More money isn’t the answer. Changing how we do things is the answer.

Health care has to get rid of some of its shackles. Not allowing private capital investment is one of those shackles. Not allowing innovation is another. The unions don’t help much either, as unions aren’t very innovative at efficiency, as they fear efficiency can mean jobs may be lost. It’s a false assumption, efficiency can create more jobs, albeit it may be in a different area of work.

Education is shackled as well. Funding to school boards is a very tangled, archaic mess of rules, regulations and grant applications. One envelope funding for health care and education on a per capita basis would free up a lot of innovative ideas. Manitoba needs a new government, of that I have no doubt. Even more, we need a more creative attitude.

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