Let’s modernize rural

Connecting the Dots

I have a distinctly rural perspective. When I see a budget, I always wonder what it means for rural Manitobans because I believe that keeping rural life vibrant is a key part of our economy.

Agriculture and oil are the backbone of Manitoba’s economy. All primary industries are foundational and are very rural related.

article continues below

Contrary to Liberal Leader Dugald Lamont’s quip about Pallister’s government being “far right”, I don’t think that is the case. Plus, we’ve seen cuts to rural from all sides of politics.

There were many questions about education and health care in the online Manitoba Budget 2021 survey. Fortunately, there was space to provide thoughts beyond checking off priorities because I found it difficult to make the call between providing more PPE (protective equipment) for frontline workers and the need to reduce wait times for surgeries.

I simply don’t know enough about the situations. Maybe I should have checked the “unsure” box many more times.

Something I can speak to, as Manitoba’s financial wizards go forward to formulate a plan for spending our money, I hope they don’t try to tell us that centralizing services will save money so we can use it to … fight COVID or pay down our deficit.       

Oh, did I say centralizing? Surely, I meant “modernizing.” We’ve seen school division amalgamations, health district amalgamations, and municipal amalgamations. Most agree money was not actually saved.

Some years ago, as I recall, we saw government offices “decentralized” and moved from big city to big town locations.

Now within the last decade Virden’s driver testing for truck drivers has moved out of town to Brandon. A government building on Seventh Ave. sits vacant. Now the agriculture offices and resource offices are being closed to the public in Virden.

I am profoundly concerned about rural Manitoba’s future. We have seen our energy industry beaten up and left for dead since our Prime Minister’s recent first chat with the newly inaugurated US president. It was already in a “resting” state due to international production wars and then COVID induced economic slow-down. Now, no Keystone XL which means a huge upset for Americans, for Albertans and pain for Saskatchewan and western Manitoba.

So, back to the budget.

The burden of school taxation can be broadened, or redistributed perhaps, but there won’t be any overall reduction of taxation for education. Let’s not be fooled. It will remain taxpayer money. However, distancing a local school’s financing from local taxation is a means of “redistributing” the wealth – humm, there’s a Robin Hood ring to that. It’s a means of centralizing control and removing local responsibility. Education, overseen by a school board locally elected, is critical to maintaining our identity, for one thing.

Minister Blaine Pedersen recently told me that although some local government offices were shutting, there were many good things in store for rural Manitoba. I hope we can bring you that good news.

When I drive southwest Manitoba, I do see towns like Miniota and Reston - well kept with streets full of new homes. People want to live there.

Several questions for Premier Pallister and cabinet should include:

What is your vision for rural Manitoba 10, 20 or 50 years into the future?

What are you doing to keep emergency, hospital care and senior facilities adequately available for places like Virden, Miniota or Pipestone?

What are you doing to ensure that technology companies provide cell phone service throughout rural Manitoba?

 

© Virden Empire-Advance