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After you, Gary.


The mind reels at the news. Manitoba business bankruptcies were pegged at 392 last year, a rise of 42 percent over 1988, the highest business failure rate in Canada. According to federal Consumer and Corporate Affairs statistics, our annual bankruptcy rate has nearly doubled since 1985. And, our net population loss was 10,000 adults.

Non-bankruptcy business closures, researched by Lisa Shaw of Comcheq Services Ltd., are suspected of being free trade related. Her grim calculations, gleaned from the Canadian Labor Congress and newspaper clippings, conclude that about 1,300 jobs will have been lost in Manitoba by the end of this year. The losses, she says, include the likes of Wescott Fashions, 470 jobs; Oglivie Mills, 90; Canada Packers, 107; Great-West Life, 25 executives transferred to Denver; Transcontinental Inc., 47 printing jobs; Marr's Leisure Products, 40 boat building jobs; K.T. Industries, 20 fibre optic jobs; Toro Co., of Steinbach, 68 jobs lost building lawnmowers; Lipton Inc., 29 food processing jobs; Springhill Farms Ltd., Neepawa, 80 jobs lost in the hog killing plant; Sandilands Forest Products in Sprague, 60 lumber jobs lost; Campbell Soup, Portage la Prairie, 168 food processing jobs will go in January, 1991; LGM Graphics, 15 jobs. Then there is the closing of the Canadian Forces Base at Portage, with 1,300 military personnel leaving and taking with them a $137.4-million contribution to the local economy.

But, fear not. Claire Clements, director of the province's re-employment office says most people thrown out of work as a result of these closures are working again and those about to become unemployed have time to be helped. She says Portage is churning looking for businesses to replace the loss of the base and Campbell Soup.

That may be so, but the recent Winnipeg Task Force on Economic Development says Winnipeg's economy has no clear focus. In other words, this isn't white-stetsoned, oil rich Alberta or loggy, rain-coated, ocean-rimmed British Columbia. The Task Force recommended a committee be formed representing government, business and labor to carry our torch and beat the drum for economic stimulation with a clear mandate.

Among other nasty things, the report says that our richest export is our young and educated. It also redefined movers and shakers here as those who leave and those quivering in the doorways, awaiting the future.

On the heels of the report came a no-name, nonaligned group of about 30 well-meaning, private business messiahs who claim the solution to Winnipeg's economic slide is for them to lead us out of the wilderness. Piloted by architect Jim Orzechowski and several real estate people, they say the private sector alone can save Winnipeg from slipping into economic oblivion. They spat on politicians in their fervor to grab the reins. Politicians, they said, could stay away.

A senior bureaucrat spoke to your correspondent, privately, in an off-the-record chat, on the "reinvention" of Winnipeg. He said these messiahs are rudderless and need a government navigator. Whispering into the telephone, he said the province was separating into "camps." And, you know, he's right.

We should be like Japan, he went on to say. Pick a business niche and dominate it through cooperation among businesses, government and educators. I nodded, glancing at my Seiko watch and remembering Honda cars are outselling GM products in the U.S. He suggested that we build a $100-million de-inking plant for newsprint for recycled paper or become the data information centre for North America because we're in a common time zone. Remember, this is a bureaucrat talking.

But, we need strong business leadership to open doors, I reminded him. "Yeah," he said.

On that point, the most quoted businessman in Winnipeg, Jack Fraser, head of the acquisitorial conglomerate, Federal Industries, was quoted again, in the Winnipeg Sun, saying that Manitoba lacks a business leader with time and commitment needed to lead. And, TV mogul Izzy Asper was quoted as saying, "a leader like Louis Riel" would do.

Ironically, premier Gary Filmon has been carrying on a Riel-like fight with Ottawa on things like the GST and the Meech Lake Accord, gaining voter popularity, while Manitoba's economy takes a pounding. As our most powerful and influential politician, it is time Mr. Filmon turned his attention to the economic woes that have befallen our province.

It is his responsibility now, with the aid of Industry Minister James Ernst, to call a long overdue conference on the provincial economy, or be prepared to suffer the potential consequences that pushed Howard Pawley's New Democratic Party out of office.
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Title Annotation:Summing Up; Manitoba Premier Gary Filmon
Author:Gage, Ritchie
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:column
Date:May 1, 1990
Previous Article:Noble commitments.
Next Article:Trott at a gallop.

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