A long 12 years

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.

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