Manitoba

Union hammers Pallister on public service cuts in ad campaign

The radio and online campaign paid for by the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union accuses Pallister of breaking a promise to protect public service jobs.

‘He promised to protect and invest in public services and we’re not hearing that anymore,’ says president

The province's largest union, the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, is launching an ad campaign accusing Brian Pallister of breaking his word to protect front-line services. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

The largest union in Manitoba is set to launch province-wide attack ads aimed squarely at Premier Brian Pallister next week.

The campaign, paid for by the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, accuses Pallister of breaking a promise to protect public service jobs. Ads will begin running Monday on radio and online, including on the CBC website.

The ads provided to CBC in advance of the launch include audio from part of statement Pallister made May 18, 2016 in the Manitoba Legislature.

"As opposed to the fear-mongering of the members opposite, we propose to protect the services which must be provided to our most vulnerable citizens. In fact, protecting front-line services and the people who provide them is what we ran on and what we will do as a government," Pallister said, according to provincial Hansard records.

The ad then goes on to accuse the "new Brian Pallister" of cutting public services and the employees who deliver them.

'That is cutting services to me'

MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said Pallister is redefining his mandate based on recent actions, including the closure of one of Winnipeg's QuickCare clinics and the announcement to cancel plans to build a $32-million personal care home in Lac du Bonnet.

"That is cutting services to me," said Gawronsky. "Those are services that aren't going to be there."

A spokesperson for the government said the Progressive Conservatives' focus is on the road to recovery through "necessary reform" that will better protect front-line workers and job security as well as lower taxes for Manitobans.

"Reform includes the critical need to reduce the number of bargaining units within the health care system, where there are a staggering 169 separate bargaining units and collective agreements," the spokesperson said. 

"These create obvious barriers to the flexibility required for better health-care delivery and much more inefficiency and administrative cost."

The MGEU's ad campaign targeting the Manitoba premier begins Monday and includes banner ads like this one online as well as radio spots. (MGEU)

Government workers are worried about potential job cuts in the upcoming budget, Gawronsky said, which is expected to be tabled in late March or early April.

"We don't know exactly where he's going to be going," she said of the upcoming budget. "We feel the premier owes it to Manitobans to live up to his commitment and not to jeopardize our public services."

Other projects announced under the previous NDP government the Tories have cancelled include: a Thompson consultant clinic announced in 2013, a St. Vital primary care access clinic announced in 2015 and a $300 million CancerCare Manitoba facility, announced by the NDP in early 2016.

"He promised to protect and invest in public services and we're not hearing that anymore," Gawronsky said.

Campaign has odd timing, say PCs

Gawronsky said her union has reached out multiple times to speak with members of the Manitoba government to help advise them on ways they could improve services and cut costs which has resulted in a few meetings.

"We have offered time and time and time again to meet with the government, to share with the government different ideas and different thoughts that our members have," she said. "They're not inviting us in."

She said under the NDP her phone rang "a lot more."

A spokesperson for the government described the timing of the campaign as "odd" and said the Progressive Conservatives have been speaking with unions.

"[The government is] in the middle of very public and ongoing consultation processes with Union Leadership including MGEU. That collaborative work has been generally positive, with everyone involved agreeing that the government faces serious fiscal challenges that require solutions … We are pleased that most organized labour stakeholders are receptive to working together."

According to a freedom of information request filed by the MGEU, the union said as of October 2016 there were 1,476 vacancies in Manitoba's public service, up from 1,248 in 2015.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

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