By The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government is going to spend part of its second term looking for ways to get people off welfare and opening up opportunities for private companies in areas such as liquor sales and provincial parks.
Premier Brian Pallister outlined an array of initiatives in mandate letters to his cabinet ministers Wednesday, six months after the provincial election, as the spring sitting of the legislature began.
Pallister tasked Families Minister Heather Stefanson with “transforming the Employment Income Assistance program from a benefit that encourages dependency on government to one that provides a short-term bridge to meaningful employment.”
Pallister said his planned reforms do not include the disabled, but rather able-bodied Manitobans who can work and may need a helping hand or a nudge to do so.
“We want to make sure that we have a system that isn’t encouraging people to rely on the state when they can become, frankly, more reliant on themselves,” he said.
Pallister said there could be more training opportunities or more help for transportation to job interviews.
“Or it may mean simply changing the culture within our own civil service, so that we ask the question, ‘What’s the problem?’ when somebody comes in, instead of handing them a cheque and watching them walk away.”
Pallister’s instructions to Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton include enhancing private-sector involvement in alcohol sales. Provincial law currently caps the number of private wine stores across the province at eight, and there are limits on the range of products private beer vendors can sell.
Pallister said both of those issues are on the table.
“After years of basically a (former NDP) government that was adversarial to the private sector in many ways, I think it’s a productive thing to engage in partnerships with people who are engaged themselves in giving services to others, and, of course, the private sector does that.”
Provincial parks will also be considered for some form of privatization. Some municipalities have already expressed interest in taking over services at campgrounds with an eye to improvements, said Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard.
“We’re looking at opportunities there that lessen the load on … the parks budget. And I think we can partner with a number of different regions in terms of turning over some of that management.”
The Opposition New Democrats said the mandate letters are a sign of a government focused on spending cuts at the expense of people who rely on services. The Tories were re-elected on a promise to balance the budget by 2023 after a string of deficits that started in 2009.
“I have a lot of skepticism that (Pallister’s) motivation is about anything else than saving money,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.
The letters also reveal government plans to ensure First Nations gambling venues adhere to the provincial smoking ban. Some First Nations gaming lounges allow smoking. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs passed a resolution in 2016 that called for the government to respect those decisions.
And in a letter to Justice Minister Cliff Cullen, Pallister tasked him with “updating the lobbyist registry to ensure all organizations attempting to influence members of the legislative assembly, including unions, are transparent.”
Other items in the letters deal with fulfilling campaign promises the Tories made in last fall’s election, such as cutting the sales tax from home insurance, salon services and will preparation.
Those measures are expected in the provincial budget that is to be tabled next Wednesday.