By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s new Progressive Conservative government has laid down spending restraints for all government departments while it gets a handle on the province’s financial picture.
A memo from the provincial treasury board, obtained by The Canadian Press, directs deputy ministers in all departments to refrain from new spending on office relocations, furniture and information technology projects.
The memo also requires all travel and advertising to be “scrutinized closely” and outlines new restrictions on hiring, except for critical health and safety positions.
“Effective immediately, staffing requests for all vacant positions will require treasury board approval,” the memo reads.
“In addition … departments are directed to employ their best efforts to minimize non-essential spending.”
The treasury board is a committee of cabinet ministers responsible for the government’s fiscal management.
Finance Minister Cameron Friesen, who chairs the board, said the Tories are sending out a clear signal that they will follow through on promises to curb spending increases. The Tories won the largest majority in Manitoba in a century on April 19 – 40 of 57 legislature seats – and captured more than 50 per cent of the popular vote.
“What this memo represents is first steps. It’s going to provide direction. It’s going to give ministers and deputy ministers in departments assurances that we will do what we set out to do,” Friesen said Thursday.
The memo says the constraints are in place “until rescinded.” Friesen said there will be more direction in the budget, expected around the end of the month or early June.
The Tories promised during the election campaign to slow the growth in government spending while protecting front-line services. They promised to work toward a balanced budget but have not set a target date.
The previous NDP government started running deficits in 2009 and twice pushed back its target for balanced budgets. The province was not hit directly by the 2008 recession, but suffered from expensive flood damage, a $300-million a year cut in equalization payments and other financial factors outside its borders.
The ongoing deficits occurred despite tax increases and prompted Moody’s, an international bond rating agency, to downgrade the province’s credit rating last year.
The NDP projected a deficit of $773 million in March, but it was an estimate and not based on final numbers for the fiscal year.
The new restraints will also ensure ministers in the new government learn quickly about their departments, Friesen said.
“We’re making sure that, as work is prepared and needs authorization, the minister is having to put eyes on a page. That’s going to foster discussion, they’re going to get into that with their deputy ministers and they’re going to know their role increasingly.”