Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives May 2 2015, Page 15

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - May 2, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE A15 IDEAS œ ISSUES œ INSIGHTS THINK- TANK A 15 Winnipeg Free Press Saturday, May 2, 2015 O TTAWA — If there were any doubt Prime Minister Stephen Harper is not afraid of a fight with Canada’s labour leaders, it was eliminated in the federal budget. While picking a fight with civil servants in an election year might not immediately sound like a good idea, for Harper and company, it is exactly the kind of fight they want. For nearly two years, the government has been battling with public service unions over sick leave entitlements for federal employees. Currently, federal civil servants get 15 days of paid sick leave every year. If the days aren’t used they can be banked for future years, although they are not paid out upon retirement. The government wants to replace that plan with six days of paid sick leave and a new short- term disability plan for people who are sick for more days than that. It would eliminate the banked sick days on the books. The government argues that plan is more in line with the private sector and says federal employees are abusing their sick days. The 17 federal unions involved signed a solidarity pact last year not to budge an inch on sick leave and have so far stuck to that. The unions contend civil servants aren’t abusing the system, that the new system will encourage people to go to work sick and say there isn’t as big a difference with the public sector as Treasury Board president Tony Clement says. Clement oversees contract negotiations with federal unions. Finance Minister Joe Oliver booked $ 900 million in savings in this fiscal year on the assumption the government’s new sick- leave plan would be in place, with or without union agreement. It enraged union leaders who say the government is clearly not intending to even bother to negotiate. The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest federal union, re- elected president Robyn Benson Friday with a mandate ( and a $ 5- million budget) to fight the Conservatives. Benson has urged members to vote against the Conservatives. Clement said there is room within the budget to negotiate but said the unions have refused to budge. “ They clearly want a Liberal or an NDP government to negotiate with, who will roll over and accept their positions,” Clement said. It’s entirely possible the dispute could push federal workers onto the picket lines before October. That would suit Harper just fine. While there are more than 250,000 federal employees in Canada, not including members of the RCMP, the military or most political staff, the federal public service is not a big enough voting block outside of Ottawa to really affect the election. So Harper could be risking a few seats in Ottawa but not elsewhere. Federal civil servants will get some sympathy from their provincial and municipal counterparts — many of whom have similar sickleave plans — but they will also risk getting resentment from many in the private sector. And about three in four workers in Manitoba ( four in five nationally) work in the private sector where 15 paid and bankable sick days is almost unheard of. What’s not entirely clear is where the $ 900 million in savings will actually come from. Last July, the parliamentary budget officer said the cost of the federal sick leave plan was actually pretty minimal since most departments don’t backfill sick employees. At that time, Clement said the missing days lead to lost productivity and lower morale. But with the $ 900 million accounting for almost two- thirds of the estimated surplus in 2015- 16, clearly Oliver and Clement think they can find actual cash from their plan. More importantly, they think they can find votes. And in 2015, for any political party, votes are the more lucrative currency. Mia Rabson is the Free Press parliamentary bureau chief. mia. rabson@ freepress. mb. ca MIA RABSON Surplus of sick day benefits S TEP one: Identify highly qualified band members who used to call your community home. Step two: Convince them they, and their expertise, can help turn their old stomping grounds into a mecca of economic development. If you think this is the impossible dream, you haven’t meet Bernd Christmas, a proud expat of the Mi’kmaq Membertou First Nation in Nova Scotia and the first Mi’kmaq to become a lawyer in Canada. Osgoode Hall- educated, Christmas was enticed away from his lucrative career on Bay Street by Membertou’s longtime chief, Terrance Paul, a visionary who rarely takes no for an answer. In 1995, the chief convinced Christmas to accept the leading business role as CEO of Membertou and, with it, a $ 1- million deficit. A decade later, their collaborative and dramatic success speaks for itself with 37 employees growing to 550, revenue from $ 4 million to $ 112 million a year, and a more than 10- fold rise in the operating budget to $ 65 million. Add to this, business partnerships with leading corporations such as Lockheed Martin, SNC- Lavalin, Grant Thornton and Clearwater Fine Foods and this First Nations community has a model worth studying. That’s the best news of all. This business success story is replicable and, as Christmas is happy to preach, there are lessons to be learned by all First Nations in Canada. But before you think that attracting international business partners is easy, know that Membertou did not turn itself into a sought- after business partner overnight. It took the steady leadership of the chief, council and CEO and a series of steps Membertou likes to refer to as the First Nations progression model, based, as I mentioned earlier, on getting back the expertise of their own expats. “ Trillions of dollars are traded in the world economy each day,” said Christmas. “ I encourage all First Nations peoples and government to step up to the plate and demand their piece of the pie.” Not surprisingly, Christmas, now a partner at the Toronto law firm of Cassels Brock focusing on indigenous economic matters, attributes his community’s success to “ building on the innovations of today while, at the same time, incorporating indigenous knowledge based on the principles of conservation, sustainability of resources and reverence for the land and the waters.” Under his leadership, the community embarked on a process to separate business from politics. By establishing themselves as a credible business partner, they were able to create internal standards which made them attractive to outside corporations. The fact that Membertou was the first First Nations community to obtain certification from the International Standards Organization ( ISO) speaks volumes. “ The one we were interested in was the management and policy registration,” he said. “ In September 2000, we began that process and in November 2001, we became the first indigenous government in North America, perhaps the world, to be registered under ISO 9001- 2000.” The ISO process allowed them to operate on a level playing field when approaching companies and that they did — reporting successful businesses in engineering, information technologies, mining, business management consulting, energy, construction, commercial fisheries and real estate. Their ISO certification also allowed them to approach companies that were bidding on National Defence contracts and suggest to them that, if they had a First Nations partner in their bid, they may get access to contracts that might otherwise be out of their reach. Announced by the ministers of National Defence, Industry Canada and Public Works and Government Services in early 2014, the Canadian defence procurement strategy may hold within it enough incentives to generate more success stories such as Membertou’s. In fact, National Defence contracts in Canada amount to nothing short of a multibillion- dollar investment opportunity, especially for First Nations in Manitoba, which is home to a strong and diverse defence industry capable of creating long- lasting and impactful partnerships. That’s because, in awarding contracts, the government is now creating flexibility in the process through a “ value proposition” where it is up to the bidding companies to demonstrate how they are bringing economic value into the process. Ideally, this could stimulate the creation of joint ventures between contractors and First Nations And that’s great news for Manitobans. Countries around the world use similar strategies to leverage economic development activities through government procurement. In the U. S., there are legislated procurement ‘ set- asides’ for business operated by women and native American tribal governments. Two of the guiding principles of the defence procurement strategy are to encourage high- value investment in Canada with lasting impacts, and to maximize opportunities for broader- based economic growth. If we study and pursue this opportunity, Christmas might be all year long in Manitoba, Bernd- style, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Membertou. James Wilson is commissioner of the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, a neutral body mandated to encourage discussion, facilitate public understanding and enhance mutual respect between all peoples in Manitoba. Twitter: @ JamesBWilson P ROFESSIONAL wrestlers have a couple of terms they use to describe the skinny, unfortunate nobodies who are sent in to do battle with the bigger, stronger and fancier stars. These poor unfortunates are known as “ squash boys” or “ jobbers.” Squash boys are tasked to put up a good fight against the better known fighters, but with the knowledge that, in the end, they would be squashed. Many squash boys or jobbers put in years getting squashed in the hopes of being picked as a future star. I have always thought that politics has its own versions of the squash boy. Like the unknown party loyalist who is asked at the last moment to run in an unwinnable seat so his or her party can claim to have run a full slate of candidates. There are other examples of political squash boys, including many of the folks who have served as Manitoba’s finance minister during the past six years or so. For the record, there have been five finance ministers since 2009. Premier Greg Selinger, chief architect of 10 NDP budgets, delivered the 2009 spending plan before he became leader of the party later that year. That is a remarkable record of turnover in a job that is normally among the most stable in politics. Selinger was as competent and sophisticated as any finance minister Manitoba has seen. He had, and continues to have, an encyclopedic knowledge of government finances that allowed him to get the upper hand with both reporters and opposition critics. After Selinger became leader, however, he turned to a variety of NDP colleagues to lead finance, most of whom have failed spectacularly. In 2009, when Selinger became premier, he gave the nod to Rosann Wowchuk, a veteran cabinet minister who served as a deputy premier in former premier Gary Doer’s cabinets. While her folksy charm and soft- spoken manner served her well as minister of agriculture, it did not translate well to finance. She was passionate when talking about agriculture, but on the broader issues facing the finance minister, it was difficult to shake her from a few well- worn, scripted lines. It made her seem stiff and unfamiliar with the specifics of her post. Wowchuk was followed by Stan Struthers, another respected rural cabinet minister with a low- key style. Like Wowchuk, Struthers had trouble answering questions that were off- script. His performance when delivering the 2013- 14 budget, which contained the now infamous one- point PST hike for infrastructure, remains one of the worst in recent memory from a provincial finance minister. Struthers struggled so much with the PST hike he was replaced in 2013 by Jennifer Howard. It was one of the best things Selinger did as premier. Howard took the finance portfolio and stabilized messaging on the PST hike. Where her predecessors had been slaves to talking points, Howard was a quick thinker who could actually listen to the questions she was being asked and formulate an answer that made sense. Her confidence and communication acumen earned her kudos from business and municipal leaders. Howard would have been an excellent choice to table this year’s budget, if not for the fact that she and four other cabinet ministers resigned last fall and demanded Selinger resign. The premier would ultimately win a leadership vote. Howard was not invited back into cabinet last week when Selinger shuffled the deck again. Which brings us to Greg Dewar. Selinger said he promoted the career backbencher to the finance chair because Dewar demonstrated an interest in, and a keen knowledge of, fiscal matters. And while that is a good place to start, it is not enough to ensure the province is getting effective leadership from what is easily the most important portfolio in government. Dewar’s budget- day news conference was an echo of the Wowchuk and Struthers experience. Dewar’s decision to wear work boots as the traditional finance minister’s footwear was good schtick. However, his performance went quickly downhill from there. Like Wowchuk and Struthers, Dewar could only offer scripted responses to questions. That created awkward non- sequiturs where Dewar stammered answers that had little connection to the questions he had been asked. It also appeared Dewar did not know what was in the budget speech. Dewar was asked when he would make further amendments to Manitoba’s balanced- budget legislation now that the NDP government had pushed back, yet again, the deadline for retiring the deficit. Despite the fact an amendment was one of the pledges included in the budget speech, Dewar denied there were any plans. When pressed, he looked awkwardly at his notes, and denied again that anything was in the works. Dewar may be knowledgeable about fiscal matters, but he is not an effective communicator and did not seem to be fully briefed on the budget speech. It was a disappointing performance for a government that is struggling to convince voters it should be allowed to govern beyond the 2016 election. Were there others in cabinet who could have done a better job? After eliminating the dissidents and mutineers that tried to force him from his job, the ranks are pretty thin for cabinet. It appears now that one of the hallmarks of Selinger’s time as premier is that he has, save for one example, been unable to find finance ministers who were as good or better than he was. As a result, Manitoba has suffered through a series of affable squash boys and jobbers who were destined to fail. We can criticize the ministers who filled the finance portfolio for their shortcomings, but the real problem here is the man who decided to put them in a bout they could not win. dan. lett@ freepress. mb. ca JAMES WILSON The gift of Membertou’s Christmas DAN LETT Setting up jobbers to get squashed Selinger promotes a series of finance fails NHAT V. MEYER/ BAY AREA NEWS GROUP/ TNS Seth Rollins ( left) takes one from Randy Orton. If the WWE doesn’t work out for Rollins, there may be a job in Selinger’s cabinet for him. A_ 15_ May- 02- 15_ FP_ 01. indd A15 5/ 1/ 15 8: 21: 32 PM

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