First alert: A chilling future
Never mind the blizzard of numbers. And forget the numbing laments of Budget Week.
Lost in the analyses is how the NDP have managed to transform Manitoba into an oligarchy, a government by the few for the few.
It's taken almost a decade, but the tipping point came with the tremendous equalization payments over the past couple of years -- which let the NDP cut the final cords of accountability.
They're now a runaway government unfettered by any of the checks and balances that have restricted even the strongest of majority governments that came before them.
Here's how they accomplished it:
* An emasculated Opposition
* A toothless Auditor General
* A powerless Ombudsman
* A manipulated Legislature
* A complacent press
* A bottomless slush fund in Manitoba Hydro
* and the wealth of Alberta, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Ontario
The NDP couldn't have wished for a better Opposition leader than Hugh McFadyen, Manitoba's own Stephane Dion. The titular head of the Progressive Conservative Party, McFadyen announced early on that his plan to recover power turned on winning over federal Liberal Party voters who support the NDP provincially. In the last election that brilliant scheme resulted in the loss of one Tory seat.
McFadyen's style involves a lot of "Me too, only more." Whatever the NDP announces, McFadyen criticizes by saying they should do more, spend more, and regulate more.
This Friday, coincidentally, the first three items on Global News defined the major issues in Manitoba--
1) Health: a story about an elderly woman's night in a hospital hallway nine years after the NDP pledged to eliminate hallway medicine;
2) An Agriculture crisis: a story about hog farmers who may have to kill hundreds of thousands of weanling pigs because they can't sell them in the U.S.; and
3) Crime: a story about a house in North Winnipeg shot up in a drive-by shooting, the third such incident in a week.
Hugh McFadyen was missing from all three stories.
He showed up in story number four, the NDP's plan for "greening" Manitoba. He made some Dion-like obscure reference to The Simpsons which, as best we can tell, was meant to say he would do more, spend more and regulate more.
In conjunction with the Oppositon, or in lieu, the public has depended on the Auditor General to keep the government honest.
But the NDP learned from the spanking it got from former AG Jon Singleton over the Crocus scandal, which followed on the heels of his excoriation of the NDP for outing a whistleblower, after she was fired for coming forward with serious conflict of interest allegations about Worker Compensation Board's financial dealings with, among others, Crocus.
The NDP appointed Carol Bellringer to the post after Singleton retired.
She declared she's a bean counter and all she cares about is that column A matches Column B. It isn't her job, she sniffed, to say if the receipts are phony, the numbers are bogus and if the officials who provided them are lying through their teeth. That's the job of the Opposition, she said.
Bellringer is quick to shuffle all of her audits to the Public Accounts Committee where, theoretically, the Opposition can go over them line by line with government officials.
Except that the committee meets infrequently, has none of the investigative powers (subpoenas for documents, calling witnesses, etc) of the AG, and has a backlog of audits years long.
Oh, and the press doesn't cover the meetings, so the ministers can stall endlessly.
The NDP has neutered the Freedom of Information Act, stalling on requests without concern of any sanctions because there are none. All they risk is a bad word from the Ombudsman in his next annual report.
The government has demonstrated its contempt for the Legislature in a variety of ways. It reduced the sittings of the House as low as 35 days in 2003. After the press finally caught on, they let the House sit almost a quarter of the year.
The NDP controls the release of damaging reports, often holding them from the public for months until the Legislature is not in session or releasing them in the days leading up to major holidays so they get little coverage in the news.
They sat on a report into security concerns in public housing for two months until after the last election, but used the information to promise, in their election campaign, on-site security patrols and closed-circuit television monitors for Manitoba Housing facilities.
They have bought off the Winnipeg Free Press to minimize bad press. They put FP co-owner Bob Silver as co-chair of the Advisory Committee that recommended the disastrous Spirited Energy campaign. While the rest of the news media tore the campaign to pieces, the FP coverage was muted.
When Gary Doer bailed out the Friends of Upper Fort Garry campaign to stop the construction of an apartment building next to the Manitoba Club, the FP, which promoted the campaign, never mentioned Bob Silver was one of the Friends.
The FP now defends the Crocus Fund and mocks the Opposition for raising the scandal, although Free Press reporters and columnists wrote mea culpas for missing the "red flags" of the scandal following Singleton's scathing report.
The NDP have raided Manitoba Hydro whenever they've run short of money. Worse, they are using the utility to promote their political agenda.
They are forcing Hydro to sell off future Hydro dams to "partners". These so-called partners are Indian reserves which will be given money from Hydro to "buy" a portion of each new dam so that the millions of dollars of Hydro profits can be distributed to them without going through the Legislature.
The government is forcing Hydro to build a power line to the west of Lake Winnipeg at an additonal cost of $400 million (and counting) over the objections of Hydro engineers, ostensibly to preserve boreal forest. The benefit is to Gary Doer's legacy. He wants to go down in history as the Kyoto Premier.
To that end he is representing the environment lobby in the United States against the benefits of Manitoba citizens.
Hydro was forced to build a brand new headquarters building in downtown Winnipeg using the latest "green" technology which raised the cost by millions of dollars.
Money, for the NDP is no object, as they prove year after year. The gusher of money Manitoba gets from equilization payments is a windfall the NDP cannot resist. They have been spending literally hundreds of millions of dollars every year above and beyond their own budgets, money which is not authorized by the Legislature, but which is spent regardless, because they can.
They just wrote the nurses union a blank cheque to be cashed in October.
The latest budget shows that the NDP even plans to raid the "rainy day" fund, money intended to cover the cost of unexpected provincial emergencies - Agriculture, anyone? - to the tune of $13 million for "climate change plans".
Oligarchy is a funny word.
Hard to pronounce.
And hardly anyone knows what it means.
But it's an ugly word.
It means a concentration of power in the hands of an unaccountable few.
Power to be used for the benefit of those few, and their friends.
The few who can manipulate information and money with no checks and balances to bother them, on behalf of the few who don't have to follow the rules or jump through hoops like everyone else.
There's a chill in the air, a chill that can't be cured with a sweater or the spring sun.