Doer as Santa

It was a banner year for Manitoba in 2005, according to Premier Gary Doer.

Though he wasn’t wearing rose-coloured glasses, the premier at the annual meeting of the Manitoba Real Estate Association last Tuesday morning, went through a long list, read it twice, and came to the conclusion that the provincial NDP government has been more nice than naughty while playing Santa Claus to Manitobans.

The premier, with the highest popularity rating among all Canadian premiers, was at the top of his game when relating why Manitobans experienced the good life in 2005. He’s the consummate politician, jolly whenever addressing a crowd, and endowed with the ability to persuade virtually anyone that his message is about having a chicken in every pot and spreading goodwill to all. 

He told the 200 REALTORS gathered, if they thought 2005 was a good year, then just wait for 2006. 

Doer said he is absolutely positive that the NDP have taken the full measure of Manitobans and know just what gifts to hand out.

Doer used the comment of former President Ronald Reagan (from 1981 to 1989), who had asked, if Americans thought they were “better off today than five years ago?”

Doer’s reply to this rhetorical question was, “Yes, we are better off than we were five years ago.”

He leads a “can-do government,” according to the premier, with a growing economy, a growing population and more jobs, since the NDP took office in September 1999.

Doer can be forgiven for thinking his glass is half-full rather than half-empty. Manitoba is doing quite well, but just what role the government has played since coming to office is a matter of speculation and depends entirely upon what side of the political fence one resides. He is right to point out that business has not always been nice to his NDP government and equally right to point out that his government hasn’t exactly been naughty to the private-sector. 

Business may single out such measures as union-friendly regulations for major construction projects as not 

being nice to the private sector, but Doer’s government has lowered corporate and business taxes. In the case of corporate taxes, the rate has gone from 17 per cent in 1996 to 14.5 per cent in 2006 and will fall to 14 per cent in 2007. The small business rate is now 4.5 per cent from a high of eight per cent in 2006 and his government is committed to dropping it another half percentage point in 2007. Corporate and business taxes aren’t the lowest in Canada, but they are going in the right direction.

And, Doer has been friendly to new developments within Winnipeg such as Waverley West and is now committed to going ahead with Meadows West. “If you invest, you have to invest in the heart of your province,” he said. “We need development in the downtown and other areas (such as the suburbs). I strongly believe it’s not an either/or issue — that’s an absolute.”

Money raised by the province for 

the sale of land in his suburban landholdings will be used for infill housing in the downtown, he added. The rise in land and housing values will help the NDP pump more money into the downtown when they do sell their landholdings.

“I’m doing the reverse of Fidel Castro,” said the premier, alluding to the perception some business leaders may have of his NDP government’s commitment to development.

“We are builders,” Doer said of his government. “You (REALTORS) are 

sellers of buildings, so we have more in common than you think.”

Of course, Doer has a distinct advantage over the former Conservative government led by Gary Filmon and can be more generous, since the economy has been on the upswing since 1999. Revenues have significantly increased and allowed the NDP government to be more generous when handing out gifts. It always helps to come to power when a province has turned the corner after years of next to little growth brought on by stagnant national and world-wide economies. This is what helped former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien and former U.S. President Bill Clinton hold onto their popularity despite their shenanigans.

The pace of the economy has been going upward since 1999, allowing 

Manitoba to have a net gain in population for the first time in years. And, the premier is also right in saying the Provincial Nominee Program has played its 

part in bringing more immigrants to Manitoba.

Additionally, there is no doubt that the job situation has improved to the point that Manitoba has the second lowest unemployment rate in Canada at 4.8 per cent, the best rate since 1976. Only oil-rich Alberta is doing better in this category with a rate of 3.9 per cent.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” Santa Doer says, “Merry Christmas!”

Of course, he’s also been fortunate in his ability to play Santa, but who cares; everybody wants a little cheer spread around at this time of year rather than a lump of coal.