By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s Crown corporations, especially their communications departments, seem next in line for Premier Brian Pallister’s cost-cutting efforts.
In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, Pallister touted his 2016 measures to reduce spending in government — cutting the number of cabinet ministers by one-third, eliminating some civil service management jobs, and starting a value-for-money audit of programs and services.
The core government is just the beginning, he said.
“We’re starting on core but we’ll move to Crowns. And the Crowns, because of the nature of monopoly delivery systems, they’re not subject to the same checks and balances that Great West Life or Ikea has to deal with.
“So because of that, they get really big in the middle and at the top.”
Of the province’s big three Crown corporations — Manitoba Hydro, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries and Manitoba Public Insurance — Manitoba Hydro is facing the biggest financial challenge. It is taking on billions of dollars in debt to finance new generating stations and a massive transmission line, and is forecasting rate increases of close to four per cent every year for the foreseeable future.
Manitoba Public Insurance was recently approved for a 3.7 per cent rate hike, to take effect next March, because of under-performing investments. Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries recently cancelled a planned $75 million new headquarters in downtown Winnipeg after a review deemed the project unnecessary.
Pallister said the fact the Crowns are monopolies means “there’s a real potential for some savings” in their communications budgets.
“Frankly, there’s not a competitive pressure there. A lot of times, communicators are employed for that purpose — to assist in the marketing and development of product awareness and so on. But Hydro, MPI and liquor and lotteries — (consumers) don’t have a choice there.”
The Opposition NDP declined to be interviewed on the topic. The party has previously criticized Pallister’s public-sector job cuts as measures that could affect front-line services and hurt an already-fragile economy.
A spokesman for Manitoba Public Insurance said the Crown corporation has eight employees in internal and external communications, and another 10 in advertising.
Manitoba Hydro lists two communications employees in media relations, five in web and social media, three in internal communications and two in executive and support functions. Another 18 are in creative services and advertising.
Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries lists two media relations workers, four in external communications and customer service inquiries and three people who support internal communications. Advertising positions were not available.