Manitoba government's promised list of budget savings proves hard to produce

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen promised the media a list of how Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government is finding $122 million in savings in its recent budget. That list is proving hard to produce and Premier Brian Pallister is a little frustrated by the media's interest.
'​I don't want to put a big load on them to give you 17, 25, 38 pages of minutiae,' Premier Brian Pallister told reporters looking for a list of Manitoba budget savings. (The Canadian Press)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister leaned against the podium his communications staff have permanently set up in the rotunda of the legislature and drew the line in the sand.

"I don't want it reported that we aren't being open and transparent here," he said.

​The premier was being pressed on when he would produce a list — the same list Finance Minister Cameron Friesen had promised — to show where government plans to find $122 million in savings. 

Friesen has been asked by CBC News and other media outlets several times for that list. On June 1, Friesen said "that is something that is being worked on and will be provided soon."

​Five days later, the question was put directly to Premier Pallister: How about that list your finance minister promised?​

Pallister said since taking office, his transition team, senior bureaucrats and the finance minister have been studying budget requests from every department in an attempt to rein in spending.

"There are literally hundreds of examples where we have acted to reduce expenses," Pallister told reporters.

​So what exactly is being trimmed back? What are some examples of the savings the finance minister has in mind and will Friesen make them public as he promised?​

"There are literally hundreds of those. I don't know how he's going to do that," Pallister replied.

It appeared Pallister was a little vexed by the request. Part of his frustration, he pointed out, ​i​s because the previous government had blown past its own estimates numerous times.

So he asked reporters — do you really want to know the specifics​?

"There ​are​ examples of, like, $3,500 [of savings]. Is this really what you want?" Pallister asked.

"Yes," was the answer from the CBC and other media outlets.

I don't want to put a big load on them to give you 17, 25, 38 pages of minutiae- Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

And so with a proverbial shrug of the shoulder​, he finally offered a concession

"If you want a list, we can probably put together a highlight list of some examples of where spending requests were higher," he ​said.​

But not without the premier letting the media ​how much trouble this all might cause.

"Our ministers are all going to ​e​stimates [part of the legislative procedure for budgets] later this week. To be fair​, ​I don't want to put a big load on them to give you 17, 25, 38 pages of minutiae," Pallister said.

​In an effort to be open and transparent with financial markets, ​the premier made an "urgent trip" to Toronto last week "to rebuild Manitoba's reputation with credit agencies," and explain in detail the reasoning behind Manitoba's budget.

​In fact, openness and transparency were a key part of the party's pledge in the election campaign.

Just how far the principle of openness and transparency will go in the new government's term remains to be seen.