The most recent budget clearly demonstrates that the current government of Manitoba refuses to accept that economic health and social well being require more than Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The Selinger Government is trying to convince Manitobans that a $555 million budgetary shortfall is not so bad since our debt to GDP ratio is only 24.4%.
It is not unreasonable to run a deficit during tough times, but the flip side is that you pay down your debts when times are good. Budgets are about planning. This implies reasonably attempting to foresee the future. In this regard, successive decades of NDP and Conservative governments have failed us.
When Greens talk about budgeting, we speak not only about the public coffers, but also about the public goods, natural resources and ecological habitats in this province. A sustainable society is based on understanding our natural capital, and planning appropriately is at the core of the responsible Green approach. Nowhere within the budget documents can you find an impugned value for vital ecological services, such as fresh air, clean water, and fertile soils -- nor for other important indicators of economic health, including healthy families and communities, active citizen involvement, and volunteer contributions.
These non-monetary costs are not captured in the budget, nor are they captured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) statistics, which measure the value of all monetarily exchanged goods and services in an economy. GDP sums all goods and services within an economy without regard for the attributes of the service in question. This leads to some strange results. For instance, the costs associated with a stolen car: filing an insurance claim, paying the deductible, the police hours spent on apprehending or attempting to apprehend the thief, justice related costs (including the cost of the court and any costs of incarceration), plus the costs to repair the vehicle, are all added into GDP. Likewise, costs associated with toxic spills and the resultant clean-up are also positively added into GDP. Obviously we do not want more car thefts and toxic spills, yet these add to the GDP number, and we're told this is a good thing?
There is inherent value in sustaining our planet -- our survival depends on it! Forests ecosystems, for instance, have considerable value. A provincially supported study conducted by the International Institute for Sustainable Development [IISD] valued the ecological services of a section of boreal forest East of Lake Winnipeg at $121.35 to $130.30 million annually (That’s for fresh air, fresh water, carbon sequestering, and various other valuable activities like eco-tourism, hunting, and fishing). If we extrapolate the IISD's valuation, Manitoba's forests yield $854.75 million dollars in ecological services to Manitobans every year.
Though numbers on a spreadsheet cannot adequately capture the tranquil beauty of our irreplaceable and wondrous ecosystems, we need to recognize that these ecosystems have value. They provide clean air, clean water, and habitat for wildlife. Perhaps if economic value was placed on these ecosystems, and these numbers were transparently included in the budget documents, and new well-being indicators such as the Genuine Progress Indicator were also incorporated, Manitobans would have a clearer picture of where we stand. Perhaps this could help facilitate a long-term plan to ensure that Manitobans leave their children and their children’s children a better planet than the one they have inherited.
The IISD study valued 40,000 km² of forested land at 130 million per year (http://www.iisd.org/pdf/2008/ecosystem_valuation.pdf). According to Conservation Manitoba there are 263 000 km² of forested land in Manitoba (http://www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/forestry/forest-education/general.html). Assuming that 130 million per year for 40,000 hectares is a fair valuation, then the entire forested area in the province yields $854.75 million in ecological services.