At the launch of the P.C. campaign, in the second week in March, Brian Pallister jokes that he grows on people.
“After all, Brian,” he says his wife Esther told him, “it took almost four years for my family to like you.” She actually said that, he says, explaining that his plans for the province and the acceptance of the population for his style of government will grow over his first four years, culminating in the roll back of the PST increase imposed on the province by the Selinger government.
He has a laid back, academic style and he is better at understanding an issue than selling the solution. You can tell that he used to be a school teacher. When asked for his vision for Manitoba four years down the road, he will tell you that he wants the province to get high marks as the “most improved province” in Canada over that period.
That statement is filled with volumes of promise but, as he says, he’s not the kind of guy who makes empty promises; he is the kind of guy who delivers. And what he wants to deliver is better healthcare with shorter wait times in emergency, higher educational performance, ongoing infrastructure maintenance and development, a better tax climate for business and lower taxes for working people, more opportunity, less poverty and in general, a “new attitude” for Manitobans, one that says “can do” rather than “poor me”.
As Brian puts it, “There is nothing wrong with Manitoba that Manitobans can’t fix.”
His core convictions are that if we believe in ourselves and apply our old fashioned principles of careful management, backed by a positive outlook, we will be able to turn our province around in a much shorter time than most people think.
“We need to eliminate waste and provide more opportunity for business,” he says. “And by the end of the four years, we need to remove Greg Selinger’s one per cent increase in the PST.” He believes the reduction in sales tax is important for lower and middle income families because they are the one who are forced to be spenders.
When told that people are skeptical about removing the PST increase, he answers. “I know they are skeptical. I’d be skeptical. People should be skeptical.” He pauses, and then adds, “If people weren’t skeptical, I’d be surprised.”
He points out that the real impact of the PST increase was not one percent; it was 14 percent, thanks to the broadening of the base which saw hidden hikes to the PST including the removal of a number of former exemptions. It is through these types of small but incremental and often disingenuous moves that the current government has hiked tax costs for Manitobans. It is stunning to learn that our former poor-neighbour province of Saskatchewan now enjoys a much lower income tax rate than does Manitoba. The gap between the two shows a family of four, earning $60,000 in Manitoba, paying close to $3,000 more, in annual income tax, than the same family in our neighbouring province.
For Brian Pallister, that`s a disheartening and unsustainable picture. “People should be able to keep their own money in their pockets and to make their own decisions about how to spend their income,” he declares.
Still, if he is elected, how will Brian resolve that seemingly contradictory statement about balancing the books and reducing a tax?
If he were a slogan kind of guy (which he is not – slogans roll uncomfortably off his tongue), he might say that the answer lies in “we, not me”. Because what Brian brings to the table, combined with his years as a successful financial planner, is a solid, rural-based Manitoba work ethic, where people work together to overcome the odds. You do your part and I’ll do mine, could be another slogan. And his part is providing the framework of well-monitored expenditures, priority setting and strong administrative management.
He believes that given the chance, (meaning lower taxes, less government red tape and a mountain of positive encouragement) Manitobans will apply their natural work ethic to the task and the job will get done.
If this sounds trite and uninspired, that could be because it is simply true. There are no magic bullets. Yes, he says, we need to renew our infrastructure – that’s about effective management of our resources, with an eye to the long term so that we don’t have these spikes of election spending that contractors can’t service because of the cost of gearing up to meet the surge in expectation.
No, we don’t need holus bolus cuts to the civil service, he says; we need to rationalize how the government labour force is deployed and make sure that civil servants know what is expected of them, what the outcomes should be, and then let them get the job done.
The problem now, he thinks, is that there is no leadership in terms of providing direction and demanding tangible results. If money is being spent and there is no return, then that is waste, not investment. If the leadership is there, the returns will be there, and there will be more money to bring forward even stronger results.
Take tourism as an example. “We spend far more money on advertising government activities than we do on promoting travel to our province,” Brian says. Where is the return on that? Yet, travel and tourism generate vast returns to host destinations, while advertising bragging about what government does returns nothing.
He stands and draws a balloon-like structure on a flip chart followed by a much more horizontal model that looks like an amplifying sound stage. This is to illustrate the difference between the way he sees using resources and the way Greg Selinger does. In Greg’s model, stratospheric spending goes through a narrow opening and rises to the top. In Brian’s model, the spending is spread out over a wider, more harmonious field. More than anything, this illustrates his way of seeing things and how he plans to approach government. It will be steady-as-she-goes with incremental improvement, which his mathematical, financial planner mind tells him can have only one impact: growth and prosperity.
In the “we” model, Brian sees a stronger role for volunteer organizations, supported by but not dominated by government. In the “we” model, Brian sees local entrepreneurs getting the support and a leg up that they need without interference from government. In the “we” model, Brian sees making decisions after careful study and advice from those who know how to produce tangible results. He is a collaborator, a learner and a team guy who will rely heavily on his ministers to make things happen in government and get things done.
This is a big departure from the current NDP, ad-hoc style of management. And if the vision is for incremental but constant improvement, then Manitoban will be well served.