A barber, a nurse and a teacher: Manitobans weigh in on what the province’s budget should look like

On the eve of the new budget from the provincial government, CBC News asked Manitobans of various walks of life where they think the Progressive Conservative government should prioritize $18 billion in new spending in the 12 months ahead. The province hopes the spending plan will best position Manitoba to recover from the worst economic downturn it’s endured since the Great Depression.

As Manitoba is expected to chart its course for a post-pandemic recovery in its new budget, Ramanveer Mooker doesn’t want to be left behind.

He knows what that feels like.

He has reopened his salon, but many clients haven’t come back. Some of them are getting haircuts on the sly. 

“They don’t go to salons anymore because they are going to get more cheaper prices” from an unlicensed hairstylist at someone’s home, said Mooker, who runs RJ Hair Salon in northeast Winnipeg with his wife, Jas Takhi. 

“People would love to pay cash than paying taxes to the government, right?”

Mooker wants the province’s 2021 spending plan, being released Wednesday, to ease the pandemic pain of businesses such as his. 

While he tries to recover from several months of forced closure and a stunted reopening, Mooker is asking for an additional grant to help cover his rent and other expenses. (The Progressive Conservative government have made up to $15,000 available for each business shuttered for public health reasons)

Hardships as salon reopens

He’s coping with issues ranging from running at half-capacity to clients staying away temporarily because of COVID-19 fears and the waning demand for professional grooming as people’s social calendars have emptied. 

He says business is down about 60 per cent, even as his family’s cost of livingis rising, his wife said.

“People don’t want to pay more for the haircuts because everything else is getting expensive,” Takhi said.

Life is getting more expensive, Jas Takhi says, but so far the co-owner of a north Winnipeg hair salon isn’t asking their customers to pay more. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

David Swan believes the best approach for the province, after the business closures and layoffs harmed so many, is to raise everybody up. 

“I’m not against efficiency, wanting to balance the [budget], but this is a time when you need to spend a little bit,” said Swan, who works for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, an environmental non-profit in Winnipeg.

He suggests the Tories shouldn’t focus as much on tax cuts — a priority of Brian Pallister’s tenure as premier. He promised again last week to remove the PST from personal services such as haircuts, along with the gradual phasing out of the education property tax. 

David Swan wants the provincial government to focus on coming to the aid of people who are struggling. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“To pay a little bit more to make sure that the people that I live with in this province have the means to live a reasonable life as well, I think that’s a very small price to pay,” Swan said.

Nicole Buchanan wants the government to aid those living in poverty and bolster staffing in the education system.

She says many kids entering her elementary school classroom in Winnipeg need specialized attention.

“I think there needs to be more teachers to make the classroom smaller so we can meet our students’ needs properly,” Buchanan said.

“I think there needs to be more speech language pathologists, more social workers, more psychologists. There just needs to be more support for the kids that we have.”

Winnipeg teacher Nicole Buchanan wants the province to prop up schools with additional supports in the classroom. (John Einarson/CBC)

In a non-pandemic year, she says, she would have anywhere from 21 to 25 students in her split Grade 1 and Grade 2 classroom. She can manage it, but “it’s a lot on a teachers’ plate,” she said. “I think we spend a lot of time dealing with their emotions and their needs, and so that does cut into teaching time.”

Buchanan also wants more money to flow into health care, where her sisters are sometimes working 18 hours straight and “barely able to even take her mask off to get a sip of water.”

Staffing vacancies unmanageable: nurse

Julian Kroeker knows that exhaustion first-hand.

The nurse who works on the COVID-19 unit at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg says nursing vacancies are prompting an unmanageable work load. A usual shift comprises one nurse and one or two health-care aids who are not working. 

“We’re seeing nurses leaving. We’re seeing nurses quitting, finding work elsewhere,” Kroeker said. “This shortage is really taking a toll on all of us.”

Kroeker wants the province to prioritize hiring and recruitment by increasing the number of spaces at post-secondary nursing programs, and perhaps developing a fast-track program to train more of them. He says the use of incentives could spur out-of-province nurses to move to Manitoba.

Julian Kroeker says the staffing situation at Winnipeg hospitals hasn’t improved in the months since the province was hit with the second wave of the pandemic. (Submitted by Julian Kroeker)

He feels the government has a duty to address the shortage in nurses: “We need more people for the sick Manitobans to get the care that they deserve, to have dignity in sickness and in death.”

Kelly Kaita recognizes the competing priorities for government spending are many, especially after the province’s finances took a pandemic-era beating. 

“I think the government is doing the very best, given a very difficult position that they find themselves in,” he said.

As president of the Japanese Cultural Association of Manitoba, he’s attuned to the needs of cultural organizations which would rather invite the public to festivals than remain closed.

Kelly Kaita, president of the Japanese Cultural Association of Manitoba, is urging Manitobans to get vaccinated as soon as it’s available to revitalize the economy. (Submitted by Kelly Kaita)

He’s sympathetic as well to the many businesses forced to shut down. Some will never welcome customers again, he says.  

“I think money helps, obviously, but in order to get these facilities open and allow us to get the doors wide open so everyone can come in, we need to vaccinate.”

Harold Froese, an egg farmer in Oak Bluff, says the safety of everyone tops his budget wish list. He’s personally rooting for help for the restaurant and food service industry, who he knows are hurting. 

“Now it’s a matter of just getting things open again, while keeping everybody safe,” he said. “If we all work together, we’ll get through this thing.”