Manitoba's economic development strategy backwards: Chamber president

Finding efficiencies is necessary with a ballooning deficit, but slashing funding for economic development agencies may hamper economic growth in the long run, says Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Loren Remillard.

Funding cuts for development agencies may hamper long-term economic growth, says Loren Remillard

Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Loren Remillard said he wants to see an economic development plan from the province before more cuts to economic development agencies are made. (Supplied)

The president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce says the province is taking the short view on economic development, after slashing funding for several economic development agencies before putting a provincial economic strategy in place. 

Loren Remillard said while it's necessary to consolidate and find efficiencies between partner organizations, "the way the province is going about it is backwards."

Several development agencies have been vocal about their funding cuts this year, Remillard said, including the World Trade Centre Winnipeg, which he said saw its funding reduced by 25 per cent.

"What you would want first is to say, 'Here is our economic development strategy as a province.' From that, then you make strategic decisions as to what activities do we need to undertake ourselves, as a provincial government, to support the strategies and what we're trying to achieve," he said.

"So you really needed to start with 'here's the strategy' first, and then get to the funding questions second."

Without a plan and measurable goals, the province could be slashing funding for organizations that may be essential to achieving those goals, he added.

'You've got to start with the plan first'

The province's lack of an economic development strategy is all too familiar, he said.

"This is something we had been very vocal with the previous government. Seventeen years, we never had an economic development strategy that anyone could point to.

"Given that the [Progressive Conservatives] did campaign on a strong economic platform, we would have anticipated and expected that this government, that would have been one of their first rollouts — 'here's our economic development strategy.'"

After a plan is in place, then the government can make some expected hard decisions, said Remillard. "But business people in particular, you've got to start with the plan first."

The main sticking point is the government is asking each agency to show value for money without any idea what outcomes the province is looking for, said Remillard.

"It's very troubling, particularly for an organization such as ours that has been advocating for increased focus and investment in economic development," he said.

"We have a $1-billion deficit and you can't cut your way out of that. It's got to be a combination of expenditure control and investments to grow the economy."

Development plan in the works, minister says

Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen said the province is developing an economic development plan, but it won't be completed until after a review. 

"There haven't been changes in a lot of years and so what we're doing right now is developing a strategic framework. We're doing that in partnership with our stakeholders. We're doing an analysis of the business and community needs," he said.

"It's looking at the actions and the roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders and of government … so we get the desired outcomes and performance measurements in place for this."

There is no date for when the plan will be finished, but Pedersen said the "work is well underway.

"We're asking the industry to have some patience with us. It's a transition year and also I'm new to the portfolio and I'm getting up to speed on this, but that does not slow down the work that is underway on this," Pedersen said, adding the province "will be reaching out to stakeholders."

He said the goal is to move as quickly as possible, but stressed the province wants to get the plan's framework right.

"We don't want to come back in a year from now and say, 'Oh, you know, we should have taken a little bit more time and done it right.'

"We want to make sure we get it right now."