The Big Squeeze

By Lynne Fernandez

The City of Winnipeg budget is always affected by the provincial budget, but this year Mayor Bowman did his best to reverse that situation. Before, during and after the release of the city’s budget, the mayor lobbied hard to explain the injustices of the premier’s position, and to put his stamp on the provincial budget.

The mayor’s complaints are not unfounded, and were highlighted in last year’s Alternative Municipal Budget. Lack of provincial funding for transit, waste water treatment and other initiatives to deal with climate change is putting Winnipeg at a severe disadvantage. Reducing our $6.9 Billion infrastructure deficit requires a Herculean effort that the city alone cannot muster.

But it was not any of these existential issues that led the mayor to suggest that property taxes could be increased by an additional 7 per cent (a threat no one took seriously). In order to get his point across he tied lack of provincial funding to Winnipeggers’ favourite knee-jerk issue: road maintenance. The 2019 road budget is reduced to $86.4M from $128.4M, and the mayor placed the blame for our shoddy roads squarely on the shoulders of the province.

It is true that the city is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard spot. On one hand it is reliant on a provincial government irrationally committed to austerity. On the other, it is accountable to voters who – the administration fears – would revolt at the sort of tax hike (more than 7 per cent) that is required to make up for more than a decade of tax freezes by previous administrations.

The province’s contention that Winnipeg receives more provincial money than other Canadian cities has been convincingly refuted. But it is true that increases to Winnipeg’s property taxes have fallen far behind other Canadian cities. According to the budget documents, compound tax increases between 1998 and 2019 were 102% for Vancouver; 142% for Edmonton; 127% for Calgary; 122% for Saskatoon; and, 95% for Regina. In the same time period Winnipeg’s residential property taxes have gone up 17%.

So when Provincial Finance Minister Fielding says that the city needs to get its spending under control, one has to wonder, especially because he used to be a city councilor and should understand the many challenges the city faces. If the mayor were to really bring in a substantial property tax increase – one that allowed it to deal with these challenges, the province would likely cut transfers based on its dyed-in-the-wool aversion to higher taxes.

That aversion came to fruition with the tabling of the 2019 provincial budget and its 1 per cent decrease in the PST. The cut will decrease provincial revenues by $325M per year, so we should not be surprised that health and education spending will decrease in real terms, that infrastructure spending will go down by 2 per cent or that transfers to municipalities are under siege. Ironically this reduction was only possible because of the $324M increase in federal transfers, money Mr. Pallister was loathe to accept when in opposition.

Minister Fielding took his government’s tax aversion to new heights by claiming that the PST reduction would lead to 900 person years of employment and that wages and salaries will grow by $50M/year, with nominal GDP to increase by $90M. Even if we were to take these questionable estimates at face value, they would have to be netted out with the loss of jobs and higher-than-average wages that will result from the decrease in infrastructure spending, and the loss of spending power stemming from the public sector wage freeze.

We also have to consider the cost to Manitoba families of significant decreases and omissions in spending. With post-secondary funding being reduced by $6M and capital funding frozen, students will be paying more in tuition. There is no money to match federal bilateral agreements, meaning that the province is leaving federal money for healthcare and housing on the table at the same time as it is consistently underspending on healthcare and social housing, leaving Manitoba’s most vulnerable in limbo.

Minister Fielding pointed out that the PST decrease will kick in 6 years to the day that the NDP increased it. What he neglects to mention is that the increase was brought in to deal with the $1B cost of dealing with the 2011 flood. It will be a great irony if costly flooding hits again, in the very year his government drastically reduces revenue.

The common dilemma arising from both budgets is one of tax and debt aversion, while claiming to maintain services. The city continues pandering to the business community by consistently reducing the business tax despite the benefits businesses derive from city infrastructure, and the fact that Winnipeg is already one of the lowest-cost jurisdictions in North America in which to do business. It has yet to consider new sources of funding, such a commuter tax, at the same time as it avoids increasing property taxes so we can climb out of the deep hole the tax freeze threw us in.

The province has also curried delight from business with the decrease in the PST at the same time as it implements a broad austerity agenda. This strategy does not prevent business from demanding access to a highly educated and healthy workforce, and decent infrastructure.

Advocates of ever-lower taxes are fond of pointing out that there’s only one tax payer. By the same logic, there’s only one voter: eventually that voter will figure out we can’t have ever-decreasing taxes and pay for our coveted social programs, especially as the costs of dealing with climate change and income inequality really hit home.

Lynne Fernandez is the Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba office.

Black Lives Matter in Canada, as well

By Robyn Maynard

It is not too soon to express the view that the police killing of Machuar Madut, 43 year old father of three, living with mental health issues, and facing possible eviction – was unjustifiable and unnecessary.

I am unwilling to entertain the notion that Machuar Madut’s death was sad but inevitable. Regardless of the conditions that led to this incident, killing a black man in crisis simply cannot part of what it means to “contain the scene” (the words of a mental health expert interviewed in CBC news).

A recent Ontario Human Rights Commission interim report on racial discrimination by the Toronto police services – found, to much publicity, that black people make up 70 percent of police shootings resulting in civilian death. Less discussed, however, was that the study also showed that black victims of police shootings were less likely to have been carrying weapons, less likely to have threatened and attacked police and fifty percent less likely to have been carrying a gun during the encounter. What this tells us is that not all people need to be killed in order “to contain the scene”. In fact, only some deaths – black deaths – become cast as unpreventable: white men, even those armed with guns – continue, at far higher rates, to be kept alive when they encounter the police, despite being more frequently armed and violent. The ability to keep one’s life while in crisis is a courtesy and a privilege of whiteness, and a basic form of human dignity that black people continue to be denied. Read More

CCPA-MB is moving April 1, 2019

Notice of new address: April 1, 2019
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Manitoba (CCPA-MB) is moving.

Please make changes to your mailing/
contact info in your systems.Old address is:
205 – 765 Main St.
Winnipeg, MB
R2W 3N5

Our New Address will be:
301 – 583 Ellice Ave.
Winnipeg, MB
R3B 1Z7

Our phone and emails will remain the same:

Office space for rent!
In our new location at the John Howard Society Office Buidling,
583 Ellice Ave. we are renting out one of our offices:
• Office size: 200 sq ft.
• Large 3’x5’ east-facing window
• Shared kitchen space with CCPA staff
• Newly painted
• Parking space
• Central location
• Elevator/accessible
• Cost: $400 a month (all utilities, cleaning, 1 parking spot included)
contact: 204-927-3200 Available April 1, 2019

What is happening to public education in Manitoba?

By Molly McCracken

School trustees are consulting with parents and stakeholders for this upcoming year’s school budgets while they seem to be under attack by the provincial government. Education Minister Goertzen had heated exchange with Winnipeg school trustees on twitter earlier this month regarding education funding and taxes.

Buckle up. With the province’s recently announced review of public education, it seems much of the K- 12 system is up in the air. This will be an important conversation; we all want the best for Manitoba children. Education is the cornerstone of healthy, safe communities and of democracy. Read More

Hard lessons from Europe’s austerity agenda

By Lynne Fernandez

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press February 19, 2019

It’s been obvious since his election that Premier Pallister is committed to austerity. His government is cutting public services and staff, reducing funding to municipalities and obsessing over deficit reduction, ostensibly to deal with what he labels as a financial crisis. At the same time he is oddly insistent on cutting revenues by reducing the PST by one per cent. Read More

A Closer Look at Childcare Affordability in Manitoba

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press February 13, 2019

A new report by CCPA National (Developmental Milestones:  Child Care  fees in Canada’s Big Cities) on childcare fees contains very mixed reviews of Manitoba and raises important questions about public policy. A closer look complicates the congratulatory confidence that Manitoba’s fees are among the lowest in Canada (“City second in daycare affordability,” Winnipeg Free Press, February 8). Read More

Job Posting: Researcher

Green New Deal Needed in Canada Too

By Hannah Muhajarine

First it was 44 million, then 66 million and now 78 million tonnes of C02: every year Environment Canada increases the amount by which Canada is projected to miss its Paris Agreement target [i]. “Transitions to a cleaner future are hard,” said Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in a press conference last December [ii]. If Minister McKenna is in need of guidance, I would respectfully direct her southwards, to newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal—the legislation of which was just released Thursday February 7, 2019. Read More

The thin edge of the wedge: Privatization of Lifeflight

By Brianne Goertzen

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press, February 2, 2019

When it comes to evaluating the “value for money” in air ambulance services, the safety of patients and staff should be a key factor.

When the operators of the air ambulance are private companies, though, the bottom line is profit. Read More

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Indigenous Peoples and Unions in Canada

Jim Silver and Lynne Fernandez published this article in the International Center for Trade Union Rights Journal.