Manitoba

Prominent Winnipeg business leader urges Pallister government to halt cost-cutting

The CEO of Richardson Financial Group says now is not the time for government cuts to spending.

Sandy Riley accuses premier of being ‘penny wise and pound foolish’

Sandy Riley is speaking out against provincial government cuts during the pandemic. (Sean Kavanagh cbc)

One of Manitoba's most prominent business leaders says the COVID-19 pandemic is not the time for government spending cuts. 

Sandy Riley, the CEO of Richardson Financial Group and the former chair of Manitoba Hydro, says at any other time he would advocate for governments to find ways to cut when there are increases in spending.

Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservative government is mulling reduced work weeks for public-sector workers and four-month workforce cuts of up to 30 per cent at schools, universities and Crown corporations.

"This is not the time to be trying to cost-cut our way to safety," Riley said Tuesday in an interview with CBC News. 

He foresees dire consequences if the province does not step up to help businesses and non-profit organizations weather this economic storm.

"We're going to come out of our basement after this period of hibernation. And we may have our health, but we won't have our economy and we won't have our community organizations. That would be tragic."

At a press conference Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister said his government has been consulting with business leaders big and small.

The premier said his critics are not aware of all the actions the government is taking. 

"We are focused more on protection and getting results than we are in communicating them in advance of announcing them," said Pallister. 

Last week, the premier announced a $4-million contract for call centre services to help businesses connect with federal loans and wage subsidies. 

On Monday, Pallister said cuts to other sectors of government are needed to pay for health-care equipment and costs during a conference call with reporters.

"We're in the middle of a pandemic. We need to find resources. We need to look for those resources. It's our responsibility to look for those resources and I expect everyone to be part of helping find those resources," Pallister said in a conference call with reporters. 

Tuesday is the deadline for schools, universities, Crown corporations, agencies, boards and commissions to come up with workforce-reduction scenarios of up to 30 per cent over the next four months.

"If we focus everything on  paying for the costs of health care and expect every other sector of the economy that's important to fund it, we're going to be penny wise and pound foolish," Riley said. 

Riley says government cuts could result in a slightly better financial position but the impact of cutting could have negative effects for the future of the economy.  

"We could have terribly diminished important public institutions, like our universities, like our schools, like our social safety net organizations, like our cultural organizations," he said. 

Riley is fully aware the position he's taking is unusual to say the least. 

"I find myself arguing in favour of something that goes against every normal policy bone in my body. But it's the only solution given how tough this is. "

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