How will the PCs fix Manitoba's long-standing problems?

We’re interested in cutting spending, creating greater transparency in government dealings and improving a wide variety of basic services. Joanne Seiff asks, how can all this happen at once?
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

Now that Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservatives are in power, how will they go about fixing some of Manitoba's biggest problems?

We're interested in cutting spending, creating greater transparency in government dealings and improving a wide variety of basic services. How can all this happen at once?

A few years ago, a friend recommended me for a freelance writing and editing job that involved a provincial contract. It was an amazing example of what was perhaps going wrong in government. The work was short term, which was lucky since I was entering the third trimester of pregnancy with twins.

I tottered up to the skyscraper in icy downtown Winnipeg, struggling towards the meeting.

Two hours later, I had to return to the street to feed the meter for my car. The meeting wasn't over. With this level of inefficiency, I thought maybe this wasn't the right gig for me.

When I finally quoted my hourly fee, I mentioned something at the very high end of what I earned, thinking that if I landed this, at least I'd be well paid for it. Later that day, I was offered the contract, which involved helping some of Manitoba's professional colleges (which help credential professionals such as nurses, social workers and others) create clear, plain-language documents. These documents help new immigrants to Manitoba to gain professional accreditation in their fields. I was thrilled to be involved — as a newcomer from the United States, I thought this was a worthy effort.

I worked fast, trying to meet expectations. I provided comments, writing and editing for my assigned clients. In the end though, I felt frustrated. I'd been assigned 'receptive' clients, I saw no reassurance (and some rebuffs) when I submitted my work.

It seemed that this was a high cost, well intentioned provincial effort with no assurance of any change. This project provided the colleges with expensive help but there seemed to be no requirement or incentive to embrace the suggestions. The province desperately needs to recruit professionals using some of these channels.

Manitoba could affect positive change to our emergency rooms, hospitals and birthing centre with more efficient credentialing of doctors, nurses and midwives. What if we streamlined the childcare centre process, enabling qualified childcare professionals to run safe facilities for the more than 12,000 children and their families still in need of childcare?

A more efficient, straightforward bureaucracy would save time and money. What is the incentive, in the bigger picture, to make change? How many inquiries should the province undertake, regarding poor tendering practices, or looking into horrible child abuse situations, such as the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry, without following through to enact the suggestions made by professionals hired to provide support and create positive change?

We're a province with long emergency room waits, the highest number of children in care and countless other markers that indicate that basic services to Manitobans must be fixed immediately.

In many cases, the 'fixes' have already been suggested to us through provincial inquiries, outside consultants and media reports.

When I moved to Manitoba, a professional in my field invited me to meet with her. I was happy to have an informational interview.

First, she offered me a childcare position for which I wasn't qualified. Although I held a master's in education, I didn't have credentials or experience teaching children under four. I wouldn't accept a job with that mismatch from the required background.

Despite this, she wanted me to stay longer and solicited more information. I willingly volunteered suggestions and observations I'd made, based on what I knew of this community and how things worked elsewhere. Her reaction was swift.

A red flush crept up from her chest to her neck; her body indicating anger, indignation, or embarrassment. She cut me short.

"Thanks for your input. I appreciate it, but that's not how we do things here."

As I left, I was sure I'd not hear from her about future opportunities that fit my credentials. That interaction felt like I'd landed on an island, one that didn't want either outside data or input.

Small things, like writing and editing support, or large things, like public inquiries, cost money and take time to fund and produce. They offer valuable outside information to provincial officials or collaborators.

Yet, such insights are useless if no one is open to listening to the results of the inquiries or suggestions. If no one intends to act on these efforts, why fund them?

If our province chooses to do such expensive research, we need to use the results to inform and implement improvements. Are we listening?

We can save money, lives, improve services and raise more tax dollars through more efficient practices and procedures.

Yet, I return to that woman's angry red flush as she explained that the suggestions she solicited from me were not how "we do things here in Manitoba."

Are "we" receptive to advice which gets into the details to fix things? Is how "we Manitobans" do things (health care, child care, children in care, tendering processes, professional credentialing procedures, renewing infrastructure, education…) working for us now?

Joanne Seiff is the author of two books. She writes, designs and teaches in Winnipeg.