Manitoba does not conjure up easily understandable images of the province to the rest of Canada, never mind to itself. It can be difficult for Manitobans to know who they are. But much of this doubt can be laid to rest for 2014. This year will surely bring its set of challenges, but doubting the potential of this place need not be one of them. There are, at the very least, five things all ‘tobans should know before they fully step into the new year.
The Sinclair Inquest: Hope between the lines
The Brian Sinclair inquest will continue its official investigation into the death of a homeless man in one of Winnipeg’s emergency rooms. Media and public reaction have so far focused on the horrific and unnecessary themes of the event. How can a human being sit so close to excellent medical care and death at the same time with the latter reaching him before the former? The sadness of the situation is laced with injustice- the man was a double amputee in a wheelchair and an Aboriginal. Did this make him more invisible than he otherwise would’ve been to hospital staff or to his fellow patients? Despite these legitimate questions, one positive point needs to be made: we live in a province and a country where these questions are being asked. And not just in the privacy of our homes, but in a formal public process, where all key players give their input, and where an enthusiastic media will sift through the details. We live in a place where the working assumption is that this person, regardless of his ability to pay for healthcare and/or his stature in the world, should not have died. Our public discussion is not, a la the United States, a stuck-in-the-mud ideological battle about universal healthcare and malfunctioning, insurance company-infused attempts at government programs. There are many places where the death of a homeless person who couldn’t afford warm clothes never mind health care doesn’t even make it into a page four newspaper story, never mind a full fledged public inquiry.
The Perennial Mission: Making it onto the national map
Manitobans are many things, but thoroughly confident about their identity they are not. They rue being well known for mosquitoes, freezing temperatures, and a capital with a high homicide rate, but they’re secretly happy that something about them has transcended the provincial border. And so thankfully 2014 is shaping up to be a big one for ‘toba, nationally speaking. The honeymoon with the returning NHL team may be ending, but Winnipeg still has a team that every few nights during hockey season reminds everyone from Vancouver to Montreal that the city exists. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is also set to throw open the doors to its unique building on its stunning location at the Winnipeg Forks. The Museum, situated as it is amongst contested subject matter, the use of taxpayer’s dollars, and a city temperament that tends to criticize its landmarks before embracing them, has made for not a little bit of controversy. But all that only adds to a greater awareness of ‘toba throughout Canuckland.
Finally, ‘moderate Manitoba’ will continue its role of ‘balancing out’ the Federation in a year leading up to a national election. This province has always been the ‘inbetween’ province. It identifies with ‘Canadianness,’ but doesn’t have the confidence-bordering-on-
Ain’t No One Trick Pony: Riding that diverse economy
Manitoba has historically capitalized on many engines to keep its economy chugging, and 2014 will be no different. It’s shaping up to be a year of cautious economic optimism in North America, with this province happy to side on the optimistic side. Farmers harvested a solid crop this year, with the only real trick being able to transport it all to all the places that want it. Winnipeg’s transportation manufacturing industry, as represented by New Flyer’s monopolistic rise in the international bus business, is, well, bussing along. Manitoba Hydro will continue its expansion into the American market, bringing in revenue to benefit both the Crown corporation and the taxpayer. And, not to be outdone, the small business community is capitalizing on an urban market still thirsting for authentically local products, whether they be bracelets or burgers. The Little Sister Coffee Maker in Osborne Village is a particularly good example of this dynamic. Situated between a Starbucks and a Second Cup, it thrives.
Home is where the – affordable – heart is
Many cultures ‘n countries have suffered under the ‘thrifty’ stereotype, but the one projected at Manitobans in general, and Winnipeggers in particular, seem to get at an actually true dynamic: people here don’t mind spending money on what they need, or to help others, but they don’t want to spend any more without a damned good reason. Luckily for them, the cost of living in ‘toba is still remarkably low compared to other jurisdictions on the continent. The publicly owned Manitoba Hydro ensures sustainable energy at one of the cheapest prices in the world, and Manitoba Public Insurance – an animal sure to be seen as a socialistic demon in many North American jurisdictions – will continue to allow affordable automobile insurance within an economically sustainable model.
All this affordability is tempered somewhat by slightly higher taxes, but where else in North America can an average middle class family afford a lovely cottage next to a lovely lake surrounded by lovely public services? Sure, you may not get the snow plowed to your doorstep, or even down your four mile driveway, but without seriously arduous work by you ‘n your cottage neighbours, a route to a nearby plowed road can be reached. And the RCMP, should they be needed, can be called and they will answer. And Manitoba Conservation, despite a tight budget, will do their best to keep lakes clean and campsites free from rowdy campers. The citizens of Winnipeg may legitimately complain about what, exactly, they’re getting for their property taxes. The contracting out of garbage and some plowing seems to be a wonderful case study against private companies providing essential public services, and against citizens being thought of as customers. But many other Manitobans have avoided this unfortunate scenario. The people of south central ‘toba (Winkler, Morden, Altona, etc), for instance, enjoy some of the safest, cleanest, healthiest, and fiscally responsible communities in the country, if not, frankly, the world.
Democracy Needs More Than One Voice: The rise of the Official Opposition
The leader of the provincial official opposition, Brian Pallister, has not had a perfect year. He still seems slightly out of touch with many average Manitobans, and publicly dabbled in strange language during the last holiday season (infidels, anyone?), but he has been unrelentless in holding the NDP’s feet to the fire over their raising of the Provincial Sales Tax. Now regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the raising of this tax, if you believe in healthy democratic institutions where different perspectives on fiscal policy should be given their full due in the political arena, then you want an opposition party to vigorously interrogate the government’s fiscal moves. That is what Pallister has done. No government, even one you fully support, should go untested. And in our parliamentary system it is primarily the job of the official opposition to do so. Luckily, Manitobans have – after a few years of rather tepid action – an opposition party that’s beginning to show some teeth.
The cynics must be screaming after reading such a swath of positive outlooks, but Manitoba has already had its fair share of cynics. 2014 is not their year. It belongs to that vast majority of Manitobans who are tentative about making future predictions, but ultimately believe that it will bring about the best. Happy new year.
Johanu Botha is a student of public policy and political philosophy. His hobbies include the mandolin and intermittent bouts of existential angst. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org