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Inside The Perimeter

Writer and photographer Shannon VanRaes spends her days with the Manitoba Co-operator and her nights covering urban affairs in Winnipeg. Look for her in Metro every Tuesday.

VanRaes: Austerity measures will only fuel the far right

Amid the alarming populist sentiment growing in Manitoba and across Canada, there is a questioning of who is to blame for the decline in our way of life.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

The winds of austerity are sweeping Manitoba and a storm is brewing in their wake.

For decades, conservatives like Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister could satisfy his base with unimaginative cuts to spending. They could slash programs most affecting the poor and the marginalized and call it a day. A fine example of this tone resonated in legislation put forward by the PC government this week and will no doubt reach a crescendo in the provincial budget next month.

Mayor Brian Bowman is also pushing an austerity campaign, enacting a hiring freeze and slashing the city’s road renewal budget by $35 million, even as property taxes increase.

But the biggest problem with austerity — other than the fact it stifles growth, neglects infrastructure, weakens core services and isn’t necessitated by the current fiscal realities faced by our city or province — is that austerity isn’t for everyone. Oh, sure, austerity is for you and it’s for me, it’s for city workers, educators, for children and for small businesses, but austerity is not for those at the top, it’s not for the most privileged and empowered.

Plans for austerity didn’t stop Bowman from hiring former business owner Michael Legary as the city’s innovation officer two weeks before enacting his spotty hiring freeze, and it didn’t stop him from approving a $3.2-million dollar tax break for True North Square — although council has yet to vote on his corporate welfare pitch.

Pallister loves grandstanding by calling on the federal government to provide more funding in response to the current uptick in asylum seekers, but he cut funding to a program administered by the Islamic Social Services Association that helped new arrivals only a few months ago. The Tories also plan to cut regulations around everything from drinking water to infrastructure assessments, whatever could go wrong there? Not to mention the $1 billion in cancelled health care projects and massive job cuts at Manitoba Hydro.

But it won’t be Pallister cancelling family vacations because a job has been lost or pensions curtailed. And it won’t be Bowman’s kids at greater risk of becoming drug- or gang-involved because after-school programs are cancelled. It won’t be our elected representatives struggling along icy, unplowed sidewalks, with groceries or children because they can’t afford a vehicle and public transit’s become too expensive or too unsafe.

What’s different this time around, however, is that austerity isn’t just hitting the wrong notes on the left, it’s also creating discord among the conservative base — at least with those in the middle-class, those who are struggling. Amid the alarming populist sentiment growing in Manitoba and across Canada, there is a questioning of precarious employment, concerns about health care, about the state of highways and about who is to blame for the decline — real or perceived — in our way of life.

But they aren’t being pushed to the centre, nor the left, austerity is pushing conservatives farther and farther to the right, either because politicians are ignoring their constituents’ actual demands, or because they’re fanning flames and finger-pointing rather than accepting responsibility for hacking away at our safety nets. When Ted Falk targets migrants, when Pallister responds to questions about carbon pricing with comments about a race war or when Kellie Leitch says just about anything, the shift is clear.

Whether they intend to or not, politicians who push austerity are pushing other dangerous trends by disenfranchising those who need support, not neoliberal rhetoric and certainly not cuts.

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