Fear mongering served up in the food court

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One of the low points of the local provincial election campaign to date came at the 27-minute point into a debate earlier this week in the food court at the downtown Town Centre.

“I think we just heard the code for ‘you’re going to be cut’,” Brandon East NDP incumbent Drew Caldwell stated. “A ‘comprehensive government review of wasteful spending’ which we’ve heard up here a few times from the two Conservative candidates … the NRC is not in their wheelhouse whatsoever. This is a program that is in grave jeopardy pf being cancelled with a change in government — there’s no ifs ands or buts.”

Caldwell then went into default Dipper mode and brought up similar programs that had funding cut way back in the 1990s under the last Tory government. He failed to mention the Tories’ fiscally prudent administration was suffering massive slashes to transfer payments from the federal Liberal government of the day.

I was a bit shocked to see Caldwell — who at the time of the Legislature’s dissolution in March was minister of municipal government — engage in such bottom-feeding fear mongering in front of debate hosts Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation, which administers the province’s Neighbourhood Renewal Fund.

There is simply no evidence that the Tories will make any such cuts to the fund.

Said Brandon West incumbent Tory Reg Helwer: “The only thing we’re going to cut is the PST back to 7%. We’ll empower those on the front-line and protect those services.”

Said Brandon East Tory candidate Len Isleifson: “We’re going to cut NDP waste and we’re going to take the savings and re-direct it back into programs. We are committed to reducing poverty and we’re going to do that by creating partnerships.”

Caldwell shares political and social DNA with many on the board and staff of the BNRC and also with most the 50 or so folks in the audience that day.

Provincial Election Brandon MB

They trust and respect him. He has wrangled a lot of cash from the provincial treasury for many programs that have helped improve the city’s core. But a lot of that cash would have flowed under any party in power during the money-flush early 2000s.

So for this veteran politician, who also once served the inner-city Rosser Ward on city council, to say a Tory government would destroy an organization that supports that community is beyond the pale.

But the polls show Caldwell and his party are in serious trouble in this election and we could well see the Tories take over on April 19.

Caldwell is nervous. While he personally is well-liked, he wears the millstone of both his fractured party and his unwavering support of Canada’s most unpopular premier, Greg Selinger,  around his neck.

So his nervousness is manifesting into aggression and anger. And he’s starting to say things he should give a second thought to.

The bulk of the debate was fairly predictable talking points from most of the candidates. The Tories talked about reviewing the NDP government’s books, cutting waste and creating jobs. The NDPers, including Brandon West candidate Linda Ross, boasted about their social programming efforts. The Liberals — and by that I mean Brandon East’s Vanessa Hamilton, a former short-term city councillor — spoke about gradually balancing the budget in five to six years, without risking programs. Blooper-prone parachute Brandon West Liberal candidate Billy Moore has clearly been told to shut up by his party. He offered little of substance during the session.

The BNRC is one of those non-profit organizations that works tirelessly to make Brandon a better place to live for all by helping those less fortunate or simply struggling a bit in the central area of the city to create safe, attractive and inviting neighbourhoods.

That’s just a very abbreviated synopsis of what BNRC does. So where does the organization get its money for all that good work? Through a partnership arrangement by the Province of Manitoba and the City of Brandon. It also receives some federal cash for The Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS) aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness.

Isleifson has credentials that show is also has a real recognition of the needs of Brandon’s central neighbourhoods. He has volunteered with the United Way for 13 years and co-chaired the City of Brandon Poverty Committee.

“We have one child, in every 3.5. living in poverty and that’s unacceptable in any place,” said the former city councillor and deputy mayor. “My commitment, if elected, is to … reduce poverty — and not just reduce it to where it is acceptable because it’s unacceptable — but to eliminate it altogether.”

Helwer said his party wants everyone to succeed.

“Ideally we’d like to give everyone a hand-up out of poverty and we can do this by reducing the PST, lowering the minimum personal exemption and indexing the personal tax brackets,” he said.

“All of this will allow Manitobans to keep more of their hard-earned money and choose how to spend it themselves, rather having the Selinger government taking it from them.

“We need more jobs and more economic opportunity.”

It was fascinating to watch Caldwell sneer at Helwer with such an intense scorn on his face it was almost creepy. And those two have known each other since their time at Brandon University.

It was really noticeable when Helwer mentioned a couple of recent NDP contract scandals and how the money wasted in those and other mismanagement could fund agencies such as the BNRC for years.

“All the questions the candidates will be asked today will be about making the lives of Manitobans better and taking care of all members of the Brandon community,” BNRC general manager Carly Gasparini said at the opening of the debate.

“The BNRC wants to change how we talk about homelessness and poverty in the community. Having our leaders being part of that conversation is vital to that success.”

But not by scaring the bejeezus out of people, Mr. Caldwell.

For more information on the BNRC, visit: bnrc.ca