PAL­LIS­TER’S TWO-STEP

Can shuf­fling a gov­ern­ment body boost the econ­omy? Prob­a­bly not

Winnipeg Sun - - NEWS - TOM BRODBECK

It would be nice to think that all a pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has to do to el­e­vate Man­i­toba’s econ­omy be­yond its per­pet­ual state of medi­ocrity would be to re­or­ga­nize a few key eco­nomic devel­op­ment of­fices.

Un­for­tu­nately, there is no such sil­ver bul­let, at least none that would make a sub­stan­tive dif­fer­ence to Man­i­toba’s eco­nomic for­tunes.

Premier Brian Pal­lis­ter un­veiled his gov­ern­ment’s new “eco­nomic growth ac­tion plan” Thurs­day in front of a packed Win­nipeg Cham­ber of Com­merce lun­cheon crowd at the RBC Con­ven­tion Cen­tre. Like most gov­ern­ment eco­nomic growth plans, it was heavy on vague plat­i­tudes about cre­at­ing a new “com­mon vi­sion” among eco­nomic stake­hold­ers, bet­ter align­ing sec­toral strate­gies and stream­lin­ing gov­ern­ment ef­forts to bet­ter sup­port po­ten­tial cap­i­tal in­vest­ment.

But, not sur­pris­ingly, it was light on any­thing re­sem­bling spe­cific ac­tion.

The growth plan was sup­pos­edly guided by the “find­ings” of a new re­port, also re­leased Thurs­day and laced with equally fuzzy lan­guage, called Grow­ing Man­i­toba’s Econ­omy. The rel­a­tively brief 15-page re­port, penned by co-chairs Dave An­gus and

Barb Gamey, mostly re­gur­gi­tates com­mon themes we’ve heard 100 times be­fore. Man­i­toba is blessed with a di­ver­si­fied econ­omy, an ad­van­ta­geous geo­graphic lo­ca­tion, low busi­ness costs, etc. But it’s chal­lenged by a lack of ac­cess to cap­i­tal, a skills short­age, an­noy­ing gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tory in­ter­fer­ence, etc.

There were no real find­ings in the re­port and it of­fered very lit­tle in the way of a clear, spe­cific path to trans­form Man­i­toba into a “have” from a “have not” prov­ince.

There’s a rea­son for that. There are no easy an­swers to take Man­i­toba’s econ­omy to that next level. Gov­ern­ment lead­ers pre­tend they have the an­swers, that if they just rub the magic lamp the right way some eco­nomic ge­nie will emerge. But it doesn’t work that way.

Man­i­toba’s per capita GDP is be­low the Cana­dian av­er­age, and has been for decades (which is why it re­ceives equal­iza­tion pay­ments from Ot­tawa). Its econ­omy is slow and steady but doesn’t pro­duce the kind of high-pay­ing jobs that at­tract skilled work­ers from across the coun­try (which is why it suf­fers in­ter-pro­vin­cial mi­gra­tion losses ev­ery year). It’s not the eco­nomic bas­ket case that New Brunswick is, but it doesn’t en­joy the gold-stan­dard eco­nomic per­for­mance of a Bri­tish Columbia. It’s stuck in the mid­dle – de­cent, re­spectable, but re­liant on the wealth of other parts of Canada to pay the bills. That has been the case for many decades.

There was noth­ing in Pal­lis­ter’s state of the prov­ince ad­dress that sig­naled an ob­vi­ous change to that. And be­yond learn­ing that he and his brother wore home­made clothes when they were young, which drew teas­ing from other kids - taunts that ev­i­dently didn’t bother him be­cause he knew the clothes were made from “love” - there was noth­ing in the speech we hadn’t heard be­fore.

State of the prov­ince ad­dresses rarely, if ever, give the pub­lic a run-down of the state of af­fairs of the prov­ince. They’re usu­ally pro­pa­ganda ses­sions to ex­tol the virtues of the sit­ting gov­ern­ment and to lament the short­com­ings of the pre­vi­ous regime. Some of it is true, much of it is hy­per­bolic, and a por­tion is wish­ful think­ing.

Nei­ther Pal­lis­ter nor Growth, En­ter­prise and Trade Min­is­ter Blaine Ped­er­sen was able to add much meat to the bones of this eco­nomic plan in scrums with me­dia fol­low­ing the ad­dress. Ped­er­sen’s de­part­ment plans to shuf­fle its civil ser­vants around, sim­plify its op­er­a­tions and sharpen its fo­cus on the needs of en­trepreneurs who want to make money in Man­i­toba.

It all sounds good in the­ory. But with­out any specifics about what those changes en­tail, it’s dif­fi­cult to see how this master plan would have a ma­te­rial im­pact on the pro­vin­cial econ­omy.

CHRIS PROCAYLO/WIN­NIPEG SUN

Premier Brian Pal­lis­ter new “eco­nomic growth ac­tion plan” was un­veiled yes­ter­day, but the plan was light of specifics.

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