Province unveils development strategy to 'unlock the untapped economic opportunities' in Manitoba

Premier Brian Pallister pledged to chart a new economic course prioritizing collaboration between an otherwise unco-ordinated system in his third state of the province address, delivered at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

New cabinet committee, economic development office, regional partners will spur growth, Pallister says

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister unveiled a new economic development strategy in his third state of the province address, delivered Thursday at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon. (Ian Froese/CBC)

The Manitoba government says there are untapped opportunities in the province's economy, which it promises its new economic development strategy will unleash.

A new government committee, a provincewide economic development office, tax and innovation incentives, and plans specific to Winnipeg, rural areas and northern Manitoba are all part of the province's strategy, the broad strokes of which were unveiled Thursday.

Premier Brian Pallister pledged to chart a new economic course prioritizing collaboration between an otherwise unco-ordinated system in his third state of the province address, delivered at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

"Government needs to be the partner that you deserve to have, not with a subsidy but facilitating your opportunities to grow," he told the crowd.

In unveiling his long-anticipated economic development strategy, Pallister vowed to create new agencies and tap existing organizations to boost the economy.

It means repurposing the provincial government's role so it doesn't duplicate what's being done very effectively by others.- Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

The plan follows consultations with more than 500 people by former Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce head Dave Angus and Payworks CEO Barb Gamey, as well as a previous Deloitte report commissioned by the province.

Pallister only touched briefly on the new strategy in a nearly 40-minute address, directing the business crowd of 1,200 people to visit a provincial website to learn more.

'Backroom co-ordinator' rather than 'front office'

He said the government partially funds close to 90 different economic initiatives, and the province could do with fewer.

"We're expecting to be more of a backroom co-ordinator of opportunities rather than the front office that delivers on economic development programs," he said afterwards of the province's role.

Pallister added bureaucrats holding certain responsibilities within the Growth, Enterprise and Trade department would be shuffled into other capacities.  

"It means repurposing the provincial government's role so it doesn't duplicate what's being done very effectively by others," he said. "That doubling up hasn't really produced measurable results that we have seen."

Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen said no jobs would be lost as a result.

New cabinet committee, development agency

On its website, the government promised a new cabinet committee of MLAs overseeing a "whole-of-government" approach to strengthen the economy, and the formation of a provincial economic development office to lead major initiatives and investment projects.

The premier also said the government would overhaul tax-increment financing — a funding mechanism that uses future tax revenue to stimulate present-day growth — and create a innovation program.

As well, the province says regional partner organizations will deliver targeted economic development programs and services.

Economic Development Winnipeg will take on that role in the province's capital, while the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region focuses on the capital region.

Vale closed down its smelting and refining operations in Thompson earlier this year. The Communities Economic Development Fund, a Crown corporation, will be responsible for economic development programs in northern Manitoba, the province said Thursday. (CBC News)

A new regional organization will focus on rural Manitoba, and the Communities Economic Development Fund, a Crown corporation, will be responsible for economic development programs in northern Manitoba, a region that has been hit hard by job losses.

North Forge Technology Exchange, World Trade Centre and Travel Manitoba will look after innovation, trade and tourism, respectively. 

Pallister also said the province will review all existing economic development programs and begin consultations next year on ensuring Manitoba has the right skills, knowledge and talent to thrive in the future.

The report from Angus and Gamey noted that Manitoba should better align business goals with educational institutions, develop strategies to enhance each industry and find opportunities for the growing Indigenous population. 

Pedersen said the province is continuing to evaluate these options.

A business crowd of 1,200 people attended the State of the Province luncheon hosted by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the plan shows the premier has an "obsession with consultants."

"I only saw one reference to the word 'job' in all those documents and all those webpages, and that's a huge concern," he said. "What good is economic growth if it doesn't build the middle class?"

The Manitoba Liberals said the review summarized what people are worried about, without providing actual measures to fix it.

"The idea that we had to wait all this time, two and a half years, for this premier and this government to come up with a plan for economic growth while they know it's a serious problem … it's unbelievable," Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said.

More ideas sought from civil servants

Pallister also announced during his speech Thursday he would inject an extra $20 million into the $50 million fund encouraging Manitoba civil servants to make government more efficient.

Within a month, that initiative resulted in more than 50 ideas, he said, which will save government around $250 million over the next decade.

"What kind of government do you want, right? Bold," Pallister said, as he wrapped up his address. "That's the type of government that you've got."

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. He previously wrote about rural Manitoba for the Brandon Sun and the Carillon in Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.