Manitoba government dealing with 'lots of asks' for money, says premier

Manitobans waiting to find out if their organizations or proposals will get provincial funding should be patient — and prepared for a "not yet" from the government, says Premier Brian Pallister.

Brian Pallister asks funding applicants to be patient as government makes 'difficult decisions'

Premier Brian Pallister is surrounded on Monday by boxes of papers that he says represent some of the funding requests his government has received. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

Manitobans waiting to find out if their organizations or proposals will get provincial funding should be patient — and prepared for a "not yet" from the government, says Premier Brian Pallister.

Surrounded by boxes filled with paper, Pallister said his Progressive Conservative government has received "an enormous number" of requests for funding in recent months.

"These boxes represent a small, small fraction of the 'asks' of government that we're dealing with currently, whether it's infrastructure projects, education, capital or operating program spending in various categories, sport, culture … health care. Lots and lots of asks," he told reporters on Monday, as the fall legislative session got underway.

Pallister had promised before winning the April 19 election to slow the growth in government spending each year — not with deep cuts but with limited new expenditures.

On Monday, he said a government-wide review that began in the spring is ongoing and the province will not be saying yes to as many funding requests as in previous years.

To help illustrate his point, Pallister reminisced about how he, as a boy, looked forward to getting the Eaton's Christmas catalogue every fall so he and his siblings could draw up their holiday wish lists.

"Come Christmas morning, we never got a fraction of what we asked for; not even close," he said.

"We might have asked for a road race set and got jeans or a shirt. We might have asked for games or toys and from my teacher mother got [us] scribblers or a new set of pens or pencils. We got practical things. We got things we needed."

The premier said his Progressive Conservative government similarly has to make "difficult decisions" when it comes to Manitobans' spending wish lists.

"The challenges — when faced — result in rewards over time, and we're asking Manitobans to understand that the needs of the future are at least as important as the wants of today," he said.

"So to all the people who have worked hard to develop these many proposals and who, in many cases, have fundraised towards the goals of achieving them, I would say to them be patient. For some of you there's a 'yes' coming, but for many of you a 'not yet,' and that's because we're ready to face the realities that our province must face and we're going to do it with as much attention to tomorrow as to today."

The government is almost finished developing a mechanism to quantify returns on investments for funding proposals, he said.

The Progressive Conservatives also plan to reinstate a requirement that any major tax increases be subject to a referendum.

The former NDP government changed that section of the balanced-budget law, and Pallister said he wants to restore it to ensure politicians are accountable for their decisions.

The proposed law would penalize cabinet ministers with a 20 per cent pay cut if they tried to raise a major tax without a referendum.

With files from Sean Kavanagh and The Canadian Press