Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 15, 2014
Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister has officially gone on the record to promise that the PC party would not cut a single front-line service job if elected in 2016.
Rather, the focus would be on what he and his party call a “chill” in hiring, cuts to government advertising budgets and some reclassifications through attrition and retirements — a form of austerity measure to save positions.
It is a bold promise, probably the boldest yet and one Pallister may find himself being hard pressed to keep if pushed against the wall, as the NDP were with the raise to the provincial sales tax. Whether the tax was needed is an argument for another day and column, but the video news bite and promise made by Premier Greg Selinger prior to the last provincial election has burned the party and loosened its grip on power with every play of that now infamous video.
Politicians in the province have not had the best luck with statements on camera, and pronouncements and promises on tape have proved difficult to keep. One only need to look at the aforementioned promise made by Selinger and company to see the fallout from pronouncements like that of the PST hike, a 12-second clip the Tories have played ad-nauseam in attack-based political ads of their own.
Beaten up by the traction gained for the Tories on this salvo, the Selinger NDP has tried through its attack machine to change the channel for Manitobans. The Dippers have returned to the proverbial well of election opportunity, stating that Pallister, much like his predecessor Hugh McFadyen, sat at the right hand of the father during Gary Filmon’s reign in the 1990s, when cuts to front-line staff crippled PC leaders and candidates for decades following.
That period of scissor-happy politics saw an NDP party sweep into power on the heels of a perceived complete hollowing out of those services. It ensured that at least for the following decade, the NDP’s glory years under Premier Gary Doer would be marked with successes and growth not seen in the province for a generation previous.
If a governing Pallister and the Tories were able to follow through on the promise to not make any cuts, then he will have proved both his detractors and the NDP government wrong in their presumption he was cut from Filmon’s cloth. It would be a windfall for those close to the party who have long lamented their exile from power.
The reality is, though, Pallister may have set himself up with a promise that he and his party will be very hard pressed to keep. Even the often-criticized spenders within the NDP caucus have scaled back on civil service and front-line spending with the recent budget — a part of a promise to come within balanced budget dollars by 2016.
The reality of the NDP’s current methodology is that if they are able to stick to the plan it may actually work, taking much of the wind out of Pallister’s sails just in time for voters to go to the polls.
With that said, the Progressive Conservatives have not been without their share of small victories all along, one of which came in the typical NDP wheelhouse of affordable care with the decision to increase shelter allowance spending. This idea was tabled by the Tories long before the recent budget and as much as those within the inner circle of the provincial NDP would not like to admit, they followed the lead of Pallister and company in increasing the rate, while subsequently stealing a bit of the thunder in the process.
It has taken some time for the second party in Manitoba politics to be considered viable again and when pressed by the Dippers’ election machine they have stood little chance in forming government each subsequent election from 1999 onwards.
This is why the push for Pallister to venture into uncharted waters makes sense, albeit the promise stands as a risky move for the leader and his party.
Politics at this level is a blood sport, and Pallister is one who has been around long enough to know when comments may come back to bite him. It leaves many within the circles of all parties to wonder why he and his party would take such a monumental chance on a bold promise like this.
It is risky business, but in the end bold promises and risky business may be part of the Tory strategy in forming government.
Who knows? If the promises continue to be glamorous and enticing enough, even a bunch of infidel atheists could be confident in placing Pallister and his merry band of Tories back in the driver’s seat for a while.
Or maybe this pronouncement, like so many promises PC leaders have made in the past to try to get elected, will end up resting with the scissors among past strategies on the cutting-room floor.
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