Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Throne Speech

I took a while to absorb the whole speech as given by the NDP government of Greg Selinger. It is the last time we should be going through the pomp and circumstance of the legislature opening prior to an election. The only other big, can't miss event ought to be the budget from here on in.

The Throne Speech by tradition has been the way for the government to welcome back the legislature and indicate what ideas will guide them through the session. The promises can often be vague and they are not costed out.

One of the big promises made is that every Manitoban will have a doctor by 2015. It is a huge promise to make and an obvious one to promise ahead of an election. Around 15% of Manitobans don't have family doctors. The province doesn't indicate just how many people they will have to hire and how much it will cost.

It seems that their first commitment though is to ensure that the present system of doctors will have fewer patients as they introduce nurse practitioners.

On the face of it, I have no problems with this. It should have been done years ago. My view is that we still don't have enough staff to do these in the short term. This is a promise that is probably at the very least 2-3 years in the future. Quick Care service could be a cost saver but we have to see the budgets for it.

The province has promised an air ambulance as part of another health initiative. There are couple of things to consider in terms of buying, leasing or contracting a service. It could be be pricey, not the least of which because they are considering a pad somewhere at Health Sciences Centre. My guess that the idea of a helipad at HSC will be pulled off the table right away but we'll see.

Helicopters are sexy nowadays as the city gets ready to put their police chopper in the sky. They are considering putting a helipad on the soon to be converted Post Office building just for that purpose. I think that some engineers forget that there once was a helicopter pad up there and was not used because of the winds that almost sent a chopper into the streets of Winnipeg.

Another health promise is a bus that will travel to remote areas to offer primary health care services. There are too little details with this one to see if it will duplicate or complement services already in place.

One promise that I think all parties should support is a mental health court. If there is one thing that could address a certain issue, save money and prescribe the right treatment, it will be this. Don't delay this one. There is support from health, social services, the courts, the police, families and all political parties for this. If there was one indication of a need is when someone with Alzheimer's ended up charged and put in jail.

The economic promises include the nebulous looking for efficiencies, capping healthcare administrative spending and programs to encourage business. It is hard to take a cap on spending serious when the NDP government ended the legislation on a deficit. The present deficit is $565 million. The ideas on eliminating that deficit are very light. I suspect we won't hear any real ideas if any on ending it before the election.

There is a lot of crime stuff in the throne speech. There are more jails being built all over the promise. The long term costs of those remain unknown as well.

Overall, there are a lot of spending promises, not a lot of cutting or indications of where the money will come from.

Let's be honest: at some point the deficit will have to be addressed. The government is not doing that now and by 2015, we could be heading for a another down cycle and have absolutely no cushion against that.

There were no bold or visionary promises. It seems a caretaking budget in a lot of ways.

A few exciting or bold promises a government might contemplate:

1. Lowering the voting age to 16.
2. Changes to the Sunday shopping hours.
3. A casino and hotel for south of the Assiniboine River including a sports book.
4. Eliminating education from property tax.
5. Index the income tax rate for inflation.
6. Sell the Manitoba Liquor Commission or deregulate sales.
5. Create a Manitoba Police force.
6. Allocate 1% of sales tax to the municipalities.
7. Introduce term limits of three consecutive terms for provincial and municipal governments.
8. Make a commitment and a financial plan to moving as much of the province as possible to geo-thermal heating.
9. Allow for three to five 24 hour private health clinics associated with hospitals and their ERs in Manitoba.
10. Allow for bars to be open the hours they want in conjunction with more inspectors and police enforcement.

There are certainly additional economic, social and health ideas that could be contemplated.

Lastly, get a grip on spending. If money is to be spent, be sure that there are savings associated with it or that it meets a critical need that makes the province better for it. Letting the deficit escalate removes any flexibility or choices we might have in the future.

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