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More doctors, more jail cells

Opposition leaders label throne speech weak and tired

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A life-saving helicopter ambulance, more doctors, more immigration and more jails are just a few of the carrots dangled Tuesday by the Selinger government as it heads into an election year.

The speech from the throne, the NDP's game plan for how it wants to run the government, not only outlines what Premier Greg Selinger wants to do over the next year, but over the next five years if the NDP wins a fourth term in office Oct. 4.

The opposition parties attacked that as presumptuous, but Selinger countered his party has shown leadership in the absence of any coming from the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals.

"Look, you have to have a plan," he said. "The plan has to move Manitoba forward. This gives you the broad strokes of where we think we have to take the province, where Manitobans have told us they want us to take them."

The NDP wants to make a family physician available to every Manitoban by 2015.

Selinger said the government wants to create a system of quick-care clinics with mixed professional services, where a patient will get diagnosed by a physician but treated by a nurse practitioner, dietician or physiotherapist as the case may be.

"This will free up doctors to provide other services to Manitobans."

The province has already put legislation in place allowing for wider use of nurse practitioners -- who have advanced training beyond that of other registered nurses -- and is training more doctors.

The next thing on Selinger's agenda is the big-ticket helicopter air ambulance.

The NDP says it will save an estimated 35 to 50 lives a year by flying patients directly to hospital. The helicopter could land at car-crash sites in southern Manitoba and fly critically injured patients directly to Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg.

The program will likely be based on Alberta's STARS air ambulance program, which stationed a helicopter in Manitoba during the 2009 flood. It was credited with saving two lives.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald wouldn't speculate Tuesday on when the new helicopter will be in place, saying how it fits into the health system must still be worked out.

"We have a distance to go in the planning and the development, but our commitment today is that it's no longer under discussion -- we're doing it," she said.

Selinger said how the province will pay to put a helicopter in the air will be detailed in the provincial budget likely to be presented in early April. "We know that it will cost several million dollars if we purchase it, but there's also the option of looking at a lease... Then there's going to be some long-term infrastructure that's needed -- a landing pad. If you want to land it on the roof of a hospital, you've got to have a pretty good roof."

The throne speech, read in the legislature by Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee, calls for more community police officers; more emphasis on trade with Brazil, Russia, India and China; new trade routes using CentrePort and Churchill, more child-care spaces and a faster cleanup of Lake Winnipeg to reduce algae blooms.

It also focuses on education and training incentives and follows up on an earlier promise to give parents "plain-language" report cards, so they can better track their kids' progress in school.

"We are confident that we can provide Manitobans with a go-forward plan, which will take the quality of life forward," Selinger said.

The throne speech was short on specifics, but more details will be released in the spring budget.

Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen called the speech "a tired and weak response from an NDP government that's out of steam."

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard felt the same.

"Frankly, if you look at it, today's throne speech is the last gasp of an inept government. That's the inconvenient truth, but that's where we stand."

The throne speech took a couple of shots at the Tories, saying the NDP has avoided the "reckless cuts" and "short-sighted mistakes" of former premier Gary Filmon's Progressive Conservative government in the 1990s by sticking to its five-year economic plan and multi-year deficit budgets.

"Colourful language to show contrast," Selinger said. "To show that there's a difference between our program and the alternative program, which we haven't seen yet."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Watch highlights from Greg Selinger's throne speech press conference and reaction from opposition leaders below:

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2010 A3

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