Manitoba premier promises 'bolder' government, highlights changes to bargaining units in year-end interview
'Emboldened by our progress …and I'm emboldened by the challenges too,' Brian Pallister says
Manitoba's premier promises voters will see even "bolder" government in the new year, and says his Progressive Conservatives are still on track to balance the province's budget before the end of their current term — but he won't commit to a specific timeline on his own future in politics.
Brian Pallister's comments came Tuesday during a sprawling year-end interview with reporters that touched on everything from a review of photo radar to his government's changes to health-sector bargaining units to the province's fight against a federal carbon tax.
During the roughly 45-minute group interview, the premier said the government is still on track to balance the province's budget in two years.
Asked if he'd run in the next provincial election, Pallister — whose Progressive Conservatives won their second consecutive term in this year's provincial election — didn't answer the question directly with a yes or no. He instead attempted to dispel rumours about his immediate future.
"There's two theories I read in one of the local papers — one was that I'm quitting in a year and a half and the other was that I want to be the prime minister. And those two things don't really work together," he quipped.
"I'm most certainly focused on the job at hand. I'm excited. I'm emboldened by our progress. There's much more that needs to be done, and I'm emboldened by the challenges too."
Among the highlights from the past year, Pallister praised his government's decision to reduce the number of collective bargaining units by 80 per cent.
"We're letting people do what they're trained to do instead of sitting and wasting their time at a bargaining table eating croissants, and for what purpose? The idea here is to simplify our public-sector operations. That's what we've done," Pallister said.
The province introduced its bill to reduce the number of health sector bargaining units in 2017. Under changes that came into effect earlier this year, Manitoba's 180 health sector bargaining units were amalgamated into approximately 40, based on the type of work an employee does, not where they work.
"There used to be 50 different definitions of what constituted 'night.' Ninety different definitions of what janitorial is. This is ridiculous," said Pallister.
"Other provinces have dealt with these changes. We're dealing with them and enhancing the performance of the civil service as a consequence of that. Front-line workers know that."
The comments on the bargaining units came up after Pallister was asked if he is worried legislation his government has introduced to cap salaries of public-sector executives might make Manitoba less competitive.
The premier said caps are needed because of the province's financial situation, pointing to need to reduce the province's debt level.
"We're not out of the woods yet, and where we're at is we need people who are going to come here and lead on the basis that they want to see Manitoba recover. Their loyalty to Manitoba and its goals is critical to this," the premier said.
"If you're saying we might not be able to attract a great person who wants to come for another $100,000 a year from somewhere else, I'd say if that's why they are coming here, maybe they shouldn't, and we'll go with the people who want to come here and problem-solve."
No Liquor & Lotteries privatization
Among other questions posed to the premier was whether he would privatize Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, and whether he would consider dropping the province's fight against the federal carbon tax.
Pallister insisted the answer to both questions was "no."
He also said getting out of owning social housing completely is not something on his radar.
Last week, the government came under fire after the Manitoba Liberals revealed the province had sold off 94 Manitoba Housing properties since 2016. The government said many of the properties were in deteriorating condition and most were sold to tenants through a rural home ownership program.
The year-end interview also touched on the legitimacy of photo radar, as the province plans a review to study its effectiveness.
Pallister said his personal opinion is that drivers who speed and are given tickets don't have a right to complain. But he added analysis needs to be done to make sure photo radar is being used as a tool to make streets safer, and not just as a revenue generator.
Post-secondary changes coming
He also reiterated his position that changes are needed to Manitoba's post-secondary schools to better prepare grads to work here instead of leaving the province.
"We have to make sure that as much as possible we give [graduates] the opportunities to find meaningful careers here in Manitoba, and that starts with having relevant training to our job market."
The issue is something close to the premier's heart — he said in October that one of his daughters had just left the province.
He didn't specify what changes would be coming but said lifelong learning and adaptability are critical.
"Look, I'm a liberal arts grad. Please don't misinterpret this as me suggesting we don't need bachelor of arts degrees," the premier said. "I got where I got with the training I got, and my university degrees are in arts and education."
He said his government still has more work to do and will announce a number of initiatives in the coming year.
"Manitobans asked for bold. They got bold and then they elected us again, so now they're going to get bolder."
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