MBiz Magazine Story | The Economic Horse Pulls the Social Cart: Q&A with The Honourable Wab Kinew

Dec 11, 2023 | Front Page, MBiz Magazine

The following is an excerpt from the Winter 2023 MBiz Magazine, published in collaboration with the Winnipeg Free Press.

The Manitoba Chambers of Com­merce (MCC) recently connected with Premier Wab Kinew, who was sworn in as Manitoba’s 25th premier on Oct. 18 and who took time to answer 10 questions focused on economic growth, prosperity and the new provincial government’s vision for our province.

The MCC asked for his input on four key priorities: strengthening eco­nomic competitiveness; attracting and retaining talent; facilitating global trade and reducing barriers; and building strong, resilient and healthy communities.

These four pillars formed the basis of Vote Prosperity, developed by the MCC to outline priorities that would best position the province for sustainable economic growth and increased pros­perity for businesses and individuals.

Manitoba Chambers of Commerce: You have recently been elected to lead the Government of Manitoba for the next four years as our next premier. Looking ahead to the end of your mandate four years from now, how will Manitoba be different than it is today? What will our economic landscape look like, and what new investments and strategic opportunities will your government have prioritized?

Wab Kinew: By the end of our first term, more Manitobans will have access to the health care they need, closer to home. With our government, we will have staffed up the health-care system and opened a new emergency room in south Winnipeg, the Victoria Hospital campus. We’ll have made life more affordable by cutting the gas tax with high inflation and permanently bent the cost curve by freezing hydro rates. We’ll also have taken significant strides in ending chronic homelessness in Manitoba — we will help more people enter the workforce and help create thriving downtowns, from Winnipeg to Brandon.

 

ECONOMIC COMPETITIVENESS

MCC: During the election campaign, leaders from all parties talked about the importance of growing Manitoba’s economy, and you’ve often referenced that the economic horse pulls the social cart. Please talk about your plan to grow Manitoba’s economy, including how you will make our province more competitive with other jurisdictions and explain what economic prosperity means to you.

WK: Our Manitoba NDP government will be responsible stewards of the provincial economy. We promised to build — from hospitals to highways and more — and our government is ready to get to work on achieving our goal of creating 10,000 jobs for Manitobans. We will ensure that Manitoba jobs go to Manitobans by contracting jobs to local companies instead of shipping them out of province. We will help more families build a life in our great province, with good-paying jobs they can rely on. With our strengthened health-care system, we can keep the economy going and we won’t go back to the days of lockdowns due to breakdowns in health care. With a strong economy, we will also be able to invest in our province’s social supports so more Manitobans can get the help they need to choose a better path towards a positive future.

MCC: The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce believes that our province must have an effective and fiscally prudent government that is committed to creating a tax environment to attract and retain new investment. Manitoba’s business community has consistently communicated to us that the elimination of the payroll tax, which is considered a disincentive to growth, and personal tax measures, including continued increases to the Basic Personal Amount, will make Manitoba more competitive and must be priorities of the new provincial government. What is your taxation strategy for Manitoba and which taxation measures will you prioritize within your mandate?

WK: We know that Manitoba needs to be competitive, and one of the first steps we will take is to cut the provincial gas tax. This will save Manitobans 14 cents a litre every time they fill up. This will help not only individuals when they fill up at the pump, it will also help local businesses cut down on costs. We will also keep the education property tax cut at 50 per cent to help homeowners and farmers keep money in their pockets. With our plan to fix health care and lower costs, Manitoba will continue to attract businesses to the province and grow our economy.

MCC: Manitoba has long been recognized for its diversified economy. The depth and breadth of industries found here have served our province well and have allowed us to weather economic downturns with relative stability. Manitoba has what the world needs, and with increasing demand for clean energy and critical minerals, we have an opportunity in our province to support and actively champion new and emerging areas of growth for our economy. Which sectors and industries do you see as having the greatest strategic opportunity in Manitoba and what is your plan to leverage these opportunities?

WK: Our province is a leader in clean energy through Manitoba Hydro. We will ensure that Manitoba Hydro is a strong player in new projects across the province and that this resource remains a valuable export for the province. With the rise in demand for critical minerals, Manitoba’s mining sector is essential for our economy, locally and abroad. This is why we will develop a Critical Minerals Strategy to sustainably grow the sector in partnership with Indigenous Peoples and leadership. Our government will play an important role in helping to build relationships between governments and industry. Our government will support farmers to build up our agriculture sector by reversing the changes that the previous government made to Crown land leases. Across sectors, we will support businesses to do good work in our province so that everyone can benefit.

 

TALENT ATTRACTION AND RETENTION

MCC: Manitoba has one of the youngest populations in Canada with a median age of 37.7 years old. Capitalizing on our young talent will be one of our most significant opportunities in the years ahead. However, we have a growing retention problem in Manitoba, and we are increasingly losing youth to other provinces. Retaining youth talent in Manitoba is a priority for the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, and we have collaborated with the Canada West Foundation and local partners to determine why youth are leaving our province in increasing numbers. Will your new provincial government begin to tackle Manitoba’s significant net interprovincial migration losses within your first 12 months in office and, if so, how do you plan to address this major challenge?

WK: What I want for my kids is what I want for every child in Manitoba. Our government will introduce strong programs and policies to ensure that more Manitobans choose to stay close to home and build a life with good-paying jobs they can rely on. Right now, many young people are choosing to leave because other provinces are offering competitive education and careers. Our government will invest in post-secondary education by offering more opportunities in training and apprenticeship, from health care to energy. We will also lower costs to offer more students a fair start in life. We will provide health-care coverage to international students and improve the housing and rental stock in Manitoba. With our jobs plan, we will encourage more folks to work on local projects with local contractors right across the province. Manitoba has so much to offer with our arts and culture, and our government will help this sector thrive so more folks in the province can enjoy local talent, whether it’s live music or a new exhibit.

MCC: Immigration now accounts for almost 100 per cent of Canada’s labour force growth, and, by 2023, it is projected to account for almost 100 per cent of our country’s population growth. Increased economic immigration into Manitoba has been a strategy for which the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce has long been advocating, and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program has positioned our province as a leader in attracting talent to Manitoba. However, Manitoba’s immigrant retention rate for newcomers who arrived in 2015 is low at only 67.7 per cent. What is your government’s plan to streamline foreign credential recognition and how will you improve Manitoba’s immigrant retention rate?

WK: We have so much untapped potential here in Manitoba. Many newcomers in our province were previously trained in health care and they are ready to get to work and care for Manitobans. We will help more newcomers get to work in the professions they trained for by cutting red tape and streamlining accreditation for internationally educated nurses and other health professionals. To ensure newcomers stay in Manitoba, we will focus on reunification for families. I know how important it is to be able to come home and spend time with your family after a long day, and we want more people in Manitoba to build a life here, with their family close by. We will also reach out to work with post-secondary institutions across Manitoba to support international students who want to stay and get to work in our province

MCC: Manitoba is home to the highest percentage of Indigenous Canadians, representing 18 per cent of our population, and we have the fastest-growing youth Indigenous population in Canada. There have been increases in post-secondary participation by and training opportunities for Indigenous Peoples; however, Indigenous communities continue to struggle with the effects of intergenerational trauma and have much higher rates of unemployment. How will your government improve labour market outcomes for and leverage the opportunities in Manitoba’s Indigenous population?

WK: Our government is focused on helping more young people across Manitoba to get into the workforce with more training opportunities and good jobs. Not only will this help our economy, it will also help more young people choose a better path and build a life they are proud of. With our plan to increase training programs, paid apprenticeships and co-op programs, we will ensure that more young people, including Indigenous youth, have the opportunities they need. We will also invest in young people and Indigenous communities through our Critical Minerals Strategy, which will ensure that local resource projects offer good jobs to local people.

 

TRADE

MCC: Manitoba exports $20 billion worth of products every year. In 2022, our top exports were in pharmaceuticals, wheat, pork, buses and agricultural machinery. Seventy-five per cent of those exports go to the United States, but opportunities to diversify our export markets exist. The Manitoba Chambers of Commerce has been asking the provincial government to commit to developing a clear and robust global trade strategy for several years. Will this be a priority for your government and, if so, what is your plan to elevate Manitoba’s position on the national and global stage?

WK: One of the roles of a provincial government is to be the sales force for Team Manitoba. If we want critical minerals to make it to market, if we want clean hydrogen to prevail in the green economy, if we want tourism to stand up at the national and international level, our provincial government needs to be a strong leader in selling our exports. Manitoba can become a leader in the green economy, and we have the potential to show not only Canada but the rest of the world that you can have good jobs and do your part to combat climate change. Across exports, our government will work hard to become a leader on the global stage.

 

 

STRONG AND HEALTHY COMMUNITIES

MCC: Health care has served as a central pillar of your election platform, and you’ve already committed to implementing all five recommendations with supporting actions from the joint Manitoba Chambers of Commerce and Doctors Manitoba report titled Manitoba’s Physician Shortage: Physician Recruitment and Retention Recommendations from the Rural & Northern Health Summit. Given that we are facing a nationwide health human resources shortage, what specific measures will your government implement to address the attraction and retention of physicians in rural and northern Manitoba?

WK: One of the main drivers of the staffing shortage was due to the culture of health care in our province. Many professionals left due to burnout and negative working conditions. With our plan to change the culture of health care, we will encourage more physicians to practise in our province and stay for the long-term. We will treat health professionals and physicians with the respect they deserve and work with them to put solutions in place. Our government will attract more doctors to the north by reinstating and doubling the rural physician recruitment fund that Brian Pallister cut. Through this fund’s northern recruitment, we will reduce the pressure on small communities that have been spread thin. Our recruitment strategy will bring health care closer to home for northern Manitobans.

MCC: At the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, we believe that childcare must be considered critical infrastructure, and an affordable, accessible and high-quality early learning childcare framework is necessary to support workforce participation and economic growth. You have committed to expanding $10/day childcare to include before- and after-school care, as well as add more options with flexible hours for shift workers. However, we have an estimated shortage of 1,000 early childhood educators (ECEs) in our province and approximately 35 per cent of licensed childcare facilities are operating with an exemption to their licences due to inadequate staffing levels. Therefore, what will your government do to address the significant shortage of ECEs in Manitoba?

WK: Quality, affordable childcare is good for families and it’s good for the economy. With a good universal childcare program, more Manitobans will be able to get to work in the careers they trained for, and more children will have high-quality education to get a good start in life. Early childhood educators are critically important to support our children and families across the province. We will ensure that ECE wages reflect the valuable work they do and remain competitive with other provinces. We will treat ECEs with the respect they deserve and ensure that we not only attract more ECEs to the province but keep the ECEs who are already here, doing the work to care for our children.

 

The Manitoba Chambers of Com­merce believes that by focusing attention on economic indica­tors and measuring our success, we will generate greater pros­perity for all Manitobans. The chamber believes that although we are experiencing inflation­ary pressures and a continued labour shortage, it is imperative that we focus on growing our economy and leveraging our strengths through a strategic, fo­cused and results-driven lens.

To view the MCC’s priorities for the business community and Manitoba’s economy, please visit voteprosperity.ca

 

Read the rest of the Winter 2023 MBiz Magazine here.

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