Archive for November, 2010

All doing our part

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

The Canadian taxpayers Federation (of which I am a member and former national director) came out with a report on salaries for First Nations chiefs and councillors. It shows that a number of chiefs and councillors appear to be way over paid. It also shows that some chiefs and councillors work for small or at least reasonable wages. In the Winnipeg Sun, there appears the following statement which I think is very well said by Grand Chief Ron Evans. “Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Ron Evans said it’s ultimately up to band members to hold their political leaders accountable to set reasonable salaries, but admitted he was troubled by the newly released numbers.“It’s very disturbing that salaries could be as high as what has been reported when the majority of the leadership are making an average of $60,000 per year,” Evans said. “It really paints a negative picture when there are many chiefs making good efforts to provide the best leadership for their communities.”
Be it First Nations, federal government, provincial government, municipal government or school boards, accountability and transparency are the key words.
The problem is that many of us are scared silly to hold ourselves and others accountable. It’s not a comfortable thing to confront someone when you know very well they are out of line. It could be on a public or personal conduct issue, it could be on a policy issue or a spending issue. In last week’s column, I raised the question about how many civil servants are paid  more than their ministers. It’s just not right. It’s also not right that bank presidents are paid such outrageous salaries and why the shareholders don’t object is beyond me. I objected years ago and sold off the few little bank shares I had and I refuse to participate in their RRSP schemes. I invest in what I know and can see and what I have some understanding about. In my case, it’s in buildings (three) and the two newspapers. I invest my time with people, some of whom are in need, and we invest money into Christian work. Those are things I understand. I don’t understand stocks, bonds and RRSPs so I don’t go there. Some understand that scene and they are welcome to it.
It’s all about accountability and control. Control is a good thing, as long as it is steered by integrity. 
The problem with politics, be it local, provincial, federal or First Nations, is that we quickly loose control. An election should bring about good results. If we don’t get good results, then perhaps we are looking for the wrong thing. I suspect many politicians are elected by voters thinking “What’s in this for me?” I suspect votes are cast based on what good will come to the voter in direct financial benefit. That’s a bad reason to vote. So few people have any hope for the future that they are willing to sell their inheritance for a bowl of stew, as Esau did with his brother Jacob in the Old Testament Bible days. It is incumbent on everyone, no matter how prosperous or how desperate their situation, to take the longer view. In the short-sighted view, personal benefit may bring short term gain. In the longer view, we need accountability and transparency in order to grow our society and enhance our system of living.
If we sit back in a state of hopelessness, thinking all is lost and that no good can come, then we will for certain see the self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to insist that all things are done with integrity, from the smallest to the largest detail.
And we need to insist that our leaders have great courage to make the changes in policy that are needed so that we run our society and our government the way it should be run. We can all make a difference and we need to demand that our leaders are doing their part.

It’s time we did

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

The Manitoba legislature opened on Tuesday. The election is 11 months away and so we are in for an 11 month campaign. The NDP are running ridiculous attack ads on TV. It’s too bad that governments get tired and old but that’s what’s happening here in Manitoba. The NDP, without Gary Doer, and with 11 years of governing have basically run out of ideas. Actually, as was outlined in last week’s column, they have run out of money. It’s sad really, as the Manitoba government needn’t have run out of money. We could be in a balanced budget and have had lot more done than what has been accomplished.
Here’s some examples:
• Did we really need to build a Human Rights Museum? This luxury item is not something that really means much to the average citizen. The irony of a Human Rights Museum located at the The Forks is that it means many millions of dollars could have been diverted to providing clean water to every home in Manitoba. Having clean air and clean water is a basic human right that’s being ignored in Manitoba. Small rural communities, First Nations communities and other remote communities don’t have clean water. That they will now be able to see a picture of a Human Rights Museum on TV is small comfort when a child is suffering from a gut infection because of bacteria-laden water.
• Consider this. We pay the premier of Manitoba about $150,000 per year. That’s the top job in Manitoba’s government. Its a pretty good salary even by today’s standards. Why then do we pay dozens of people in government twice and three times that amount of money. Those in government will argue that we have to pay, $200 or $300 thousand to people or we won’t get the “best” people for the job.
I only have one question.”How’s that workin’ out for us?” Not so good I would say. Not only are we over paying hundreds of people, we aren’t getting very good decisions out of them. Case in point, last week’s column example of how the province wasted $16 million building a care home in Neepawa. The high priced help we have around are the same people that have given us a long list of bad decisions that have lead the province into a deficit. And for that over spending, we don’t have clean water, great roads or the best education and health care system
• Consider what we have to show for our over spending. Water systems are horribly deficient. Many First Nations communities are in disarray in many cases. Many rural villages and towns are dying. Our beef industry is in a mess. Our hog industry has largely disappeared from the smaller farms. Our business community is frustrated with the lack of progress. Roads are a shambles, our health care and education systems are slipping and there doesn’t seem to be any leadership that, pardon the expression, “gives a damn”.
• The real problem is two-fold. First, we lack articulate and effective leadership in our government. Second, if we so much as whisper a word about being more efficient or effective in government, the unions are all over it with media negativity. We need articulate and effective leadership but we also need another leadership trait. It’s called courage.
• Courageous leadership would say no to a new football stadium. Courageous leadership would have said no to a Human Rights Museum and cancel the west side Bi-Pole III  hydro line. Courageous leadership would give all the civil servants notice that salaries will be brought down to a level below the premier’s wages in two to three years. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth but we simply have to, as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said, “Stop the gravy train.” If the civil servants that earn $200,000 a year are that good, surely they can find a private sector business that will hire them. If they can’t, the it’s proof positive that they are over paid.
• Consider this advice coming from this 62 year old publisher, former mayor, farmer and auctioneer and a political candidate in several elections: It’s time for the young people to step up and be heard. Yes, we need some age, wisdom and experience in government. But when we have people holding down jobs at $200,000 per year with all the perks of expense accounts and job security that comes with a high ranking civil servant position, we have gone way too far. Hire some 25 and 30 year olds to get the job done, encourage them, pay them a reasonable wage and save money at the same time.
• In summary, no position in government should earn more than the premier. No civil servant should earn more than the cabinet minister. It just doesn’t make sense. We are paying for way too much government and getting inadequate results. We might be able to tolerate the waste if we had clean water in every home, good roads to every town (we don’t even have roads to some communities) and if we had the best health care and education system in the world. We have none of those four simple conditions. It’s time we did.

A long 12 years

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

By the time Manitoba has its provincial election, which is predicted to be in October 2011, it will have been 12 years of suffering under an NDP government. In 1999 Gary Doer and the NDP finally gained power after several years of Progressive Conservative government. It’s been a tough 12 years but unfortunately most people don’t know it.
Manitoba is similar to the United States in respect to burying our heads in the sand. Manitoba’s debt has risen to nearly $22 billion under the NDP government. Few will remember that, back in 1999, the PC government of Gary Filmon made a billion dollar promise. In approximate terms, they said they would increase spending by half a billion and reduce taxes by half a billion. The NDP howled that the PCs couldn’t pay for it and of course people believed Grinnin’ Gary and the NDP. Turns out that a half billion got spent so fast, and a few more billion along with it, that it zipped by in heartbeat. Finance minister Greg Sellinger just kept maxing out the credit card and now we see ourselves on bended knee before the bankers with a debt load that will never be paid. Twenty-two billion dollars is lot of money and especially when our supposedly environmentally friendly economic driver, known as Manitoba Hydro, will have to invest as much a $4 billion in the new hydro line and converters.
What happens if somebody calls Manitoba’s loans? It may not happen, but it could. More likely we will just have to pay higher and higher interest rates. The lenders of the world will simply put the squeeze on us knowing full well that we have food, power, minerals and a fairly compliant people who will buckle under and pay the going rate. That we are, and will be, enslaved doesn’t seem to bother the NDP or most Manitobans for that matter.
It would be interesting to figure out how much money we actually waste every year in government. That figure could be added to the $760 million we pay in interest and then we would be able to determine what level of education and health care we could actually afford.
The “wasted” figure is a bit harder to determine. To break it down, let’s just look at a local example. In 1999 the PC government announced that Neepawa’s 120 bed Eastview Lodge would be replaced for $13 million. The PCs lost the election. I was mayor of Neepawa at the time and Premier Gary Doer assured me personally that the care home would be built but the Tories didn’t have it in the budget so it would take years to achieve. Ste. Rose MLA Glen Cummings said that simply wasn’t true. Now a man of Cummings’ integrity wouldn’t likely publicly call a premier a liar but that’s splitting hairs. The money was there and that can be proven as spending increased madly over the next few years. It’s just that the NDP chose not to spend it in Neepawa.
So, in 2009, the care home was finally built and opened. But the price had increased to $28 million and change. The local contribution went from $1.4 million to $2.8 million and to add insult to injury, the new home is only 100 beds, not 120. And guess what, the care home today has a waiting list of 30 people.
But it gets better. Back in 1999, the ARHA offered Eastview Lodge to the Town of Neepawa for a dollar as soon as it would be closed. Ten years later the ARHA was still willing to carry through on that promise. In anticipation of that move, the local housing committee of the Chamber of Commerce, Hytek-Springhill and the Town of Neepawa rounded up a developer who was prepared to make EVL into about 50 suites. Springhill liked it, the Town liked it, the ARHA liked it but, true to form, the NDP got all high-handed and decided to put the place up for tender. It can be argued that tendering was the right process but not that late in the process. The province had 10 years warning that EVL would become surplus. The RHA administration told them years in advance when the place would be empty. In fact, RHA VP Ted Bartlett said repeatedly that he wanted to hand over the keys to EVL the moment the last resident’s wheel chair went down the ramp. That was to happen in December 2008 but some construction delays pushed the date back to February 2009. The province had a lot of notice but did nothing to get a tendered price. In fact, they didn’t even decide to tender the building out until an offer was in place and the building had already been empty for months. The government was told there would be no tenders and there wasn’t. During the six month delay, the investors found other places to put their money so there was no chance of enticing that offer back onto the table. Now, nearly 18 months since EVL closed, it sits bleak and empty and it has been running up a bill for taxes, maintenance, insurance, etc. to an estimated tune of $20,000 per month.
To recap, the government delays cost this area 20 beds, a $15 million dollar increase (more than a doubling in the price) and now $400,000 in operating losses since EVL closed. It’s estimated it will cost $600,000 to demolish EVL and clean up the site.
If good business sense and planning were applied to every government department a lot of money could be saved. On this one small project, in one small town, we are looking at $16 million in excess expenditures and counting. In a $10 billion provincial budget, it’s quite conceivable that huge savings could be realized. Maybe we could pay off the debt some day. Rest assured, it won’t happen with the style of government we have had this past 12 years in Manitoba.

Good to remember, better to learn

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

It’s now 65 years since the end of WWII. That’s longer than many of us has been alive. Few people can say they remember WWII with clarity and there are fewer yet who have even the slightest childhood memory of WWI. My brothers remember bits and pieces of WWII. My oldest brother fought in the Korean war. Unfortunately, we all have memories of the war in Afghanistan and we have lost many soldiers in that war.
Millions of people have pondered how wars may be brought to an end. The hippies and beatniks of the 1960s were sure that laying down all arms was the answer. In theory, they were correct but it would take absolute compliance by every person in the world. Those of us who pondered and observed, or perhaps even participated in, the hippy movement  can sympathize with the intent but it’s just not going to happen. 
Canada’s role in war has been the correct role for the most part over the past 100 years. I daresay it has become more correct as each decade passes. The war in Afghanistan can be justified. Certainly, our role in Korea and Kosovo and Cyprus was justifiable.
What we can’t justify, and should rectify, is our lack of preparation. To send our troops to Afghanistan in glorified pick-up trucks was little short of criminal. I know liberal-minded people think that if we sent our troops out with little guns in little trucks, and especially if we painted them pink, that all would be well with the world. That might work if the enemy had some small shred of decency in their hearts but enraged enemies don’t work that way.
To make any kind of attempt to understand war one must understand that at least one party has no respect for life. Aggressors in war are driven by different motives than most Canadians. Most Canadians (and most Americans) value life, it’s precious and sacred. That isn’t how war-minded people, and especially war minded leaders, think. To them, people are numbers. People are assets, people are, to use the old expression, “cannon fodder”.  One death or a thousand deaths makes little difference to them.
As Canadians, we need to do everything we can to strengthen our society. As a member of the media, I can readily point fingers at our industry. When the media mocks family values, we should be offended, not titillated by their attempts at humour. Just try and find a movie or a TV show that shows loving, functional families with strong mothers and fathers, especially fathers. Families are mocked, men are mocked. It seems that all good is torn down and all bad things are built up.
We need to strengthen our society and send a strong message that Canada was built by strong families, dare I say strong Christian families, and that we need to preserve that value system. Canadians value life and on that foundation we can stand strong as a nation.
That said, we need to stop being ready for the last war. Even a summary review of our war history from the past 100 years shows that we have never been ready for any war. The troops in WWI were sent off to battle with shoddy equipment, poor rifles, bad food and in many cases poor training and worse officers. In WWII we sent tiny ships out into the North Atlantic with wooden guns and poorly clothed sailors. We were ready to fight WWII by the time it ended. We didn’t carry that preparation forward and we were ill-equiped to fight the war on the mountains and the seas of Korea. In Cyprus, our soldiers were at times on a battle field without bullets. In Afghanistan we sent them in with the wrong colour of uniforms and driving the above mentioned pick-up trucks.
Now we are still debating if 40 year old helicopters and 30 year old jet fighters can hang on for a few more years. We are on one hand a proud country but on the other hand, we are a disgrace. We can find funding for every protest group that crawls out from under a rock on some university campus but we can’t get the colours right on our soldiers’ camouflage. That’s disgusting. We can spend millions, perhaps billions on every non-descript little idea and protest but we can’t protect our troops.
My grandfather, my father, four of my uncles and my brother saw all this political garbage first hand. 
To see it continue is intolerable. Recent municipal elections across Canada have seen a groundswell of discontent as voters moved towards a more pragmatic, cost conscious (right-wing??) agenda. May that sweep continue in our province and in our country so  the deaths of our troops will not be in vain. Those who lived and died to make Canada great deserve a better tribute than we are currently giving them.
At this time, we say, “We will remember them.” That’s great, but will we also need to learn from a 100 years of political bungling and stumbling?  We need to honour our veterans and ancestors by being prepared to fight a war to defend what they fought to preserve. We need to say, “We will learn from them” as well as, “We will remember them”! This is a Sunrize Group internet solution (204)226-2247