Message from the President – Political Uncertainty is Bad for Business

Nov 14, 2014 | Chamber News

There has probably never been a more interesting time for political pundits and those who delve deep into policy development than with the latest happenings at the Manitoba Legislature.

Over the past two weeks five key high-profile cabinet ministers called on the Premier of Manitoba to step down, citing he wasn’t listening to their concerns and advice. Calls continue to come from opposition party leaders for the Premier to call an election; columnists and pundits are calling on Premier Selinger to step down.  Even NDP backbenchers and party executive members have called on him to do the right thing and step aside.

In this political game of chicken, the Premier has indicated he has no intention of stepping down. Over the weekend, he upped the political ante by calling for a leadership vote, an open challenge for those with leadership aspirations within his party to step up at the NDP convention in March – just four months away. It’s great political theater, but all of this posturing and gamesmanship is of little concern to the average Manitoban and is creating greater uncertainty moving forward.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of either good news or bad news, depending on who you listen to.  In October, Statistics Canada job numbers indicated more than 8,000 new jobs and 11,400 new positions over the past 12 months. The Opposition have countered by saying that there are actually 2,000 fewer employed Manitobans and 3,200 fewer Manitobans working in the non-government sector. The uncertainty of these numbers highlights the importance of focusing on the task at hand:  improving the business climate in Manitoba and addressing the need of workers.

The two biggest issues concerning the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce – which represents close to 10,000 businesses in the province of Manitoba – are economic competiveness and issues related to Manitoba’s workforce. The number one concern we consistently here from business is the challenge of finding skilled and even unskilled workers.

However, the political maneuvering on Broadway is a potential business killer for Manitoba.  It creates doubts in the minds of business owners and does little to create confidence in the Manitoba economy when a gang of five key ministers are publicly calling out the Premier for not listening to their concerns – whatever they may be. It has been stated on several occasions that political uncertainty does not pass the eye test of businesses that deal in certainty. The political unrest and changes have also left us with numerous unanswered questions as the dust continues to swirl.

Following Moody’s Investors Service reducing the outlook for Manitoba’s debt ratings to negative from stable over the summer due to the risk of the Selinger government’s plan to bring the province’s books back into the black by 2016-17, we wonder if this instability will make this less of  a priority for Selinger’s government.

In addition, work had begun towards a process to develop a comprehensive new agreement on internal trade with the provinces, aimed at lowering barriers estimated to cost the country $50 billion a year. Theresa Oswald, the Minister of Jobs and the Economy, was at the time of her resignation the chair of the Committee on Internal Trade, the ministerial-level committee that oversees the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT). What becomes of Manitoba’s role on this committee?

At the same time, Premier Selinger sits with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil on the Steering Committee that will lead provincial and territorial Ministers in this work towards an updated AIT agreement.

This Steering Committee is expected to provide an update to Premiers by February 2015, including concrete actions on enhancing labour mobility. With his political career in the balance, can the Premier be all in with a leadership review within a few weeks?

The most pressing unknown is how this political instability will impact next week’s Throne Speech and the spring provincial budget.

In a week’s time, Manitoba’s Lieutenant-Governor Phillip Lee will deliver the government’s Throne Speech to signal the opening of a new legislative session. The Speech from the Throne typically summarizes what the government expects to achieve during the session.  Last year the Speech from the Throne focussed on basics to keep Manitoba moving through uncertainty. The speech may have the same focus again this year – however the uncertainty last year was economic – this year it is political.

While others are calling for the Premier to resign or call an election, the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce is calling on the government and all politicians to think about what is best for Manitoba. In this time of political uncertainty, whether of their own creation or otherwise, Manitobans and the business community deserve and require government to provide a blueprint for how they plan to carry on with the business of Manitoba. Our tenuous economic momentum is too important to be derailed by political posturing.

It is imperative that next week’s Throne Speech sends a clear message that will restore confidence with Manitobans that the government is listening and prepared to address issues of importance and worried less about simple political survival.

Chuck Davidson

President and CEO

Manitoba Chambers of Commerce

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