Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Welfare, healthy living on tap

New Democrats get ready to meet

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Manitoba New Democrats will debate the merits of raising welfare rates and imposing a tax on junk food and soft drinks when they gather for their annual convention in Winnipeg Feb. 7 to 9.

Party members have submitted close to 200 resolutions on a broad range of issues, from climate change and urban sprawl to the closure of rural Hydro offices and the banning of foods containing shark fins.

The Assiniboia and Wolseley constituencies want the province to implement a junk food or "healthy living" levy and direct all revenues toward healthy food and preschool breakfast programs, gardening projects and "food support projects."

The Wolseley motion argues junk food contributes to diabetes, obesity and other health conditions. Tobacco taxes, it argues, "have shown that price affects consumer behaviour."

The party's two Brandon riding associations are behind a resolution that would implement a tax on "sugar-sweetened beverages such as pop," with revenues targeted to healthy food initiatives.

Meanwhile, resolutions sponsored by four constituencies would press the Selinger government to increase Employment and Income Assistance (welfare) payments, while another motion would allow social assistance recipients to increase the amount of money they earn without penalty.

Various social agencies, including Winnipeg Harvest and the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, have demanded higher welfare rates for some time. They say rental allowances are far too low, forcing recipients to spend part of their food money on rent. Some business leaders and the Progressive Conservative Opposition have urged rental allowances be boosted as well, as did the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry report that was released Friday.

But so far, the government has resisted these pleas, saying it has boosted supports to welfare recipients in other ways and its main goal is to help people get off social assistance.

But a growing number of New Democrats appear to be siding with those demanding an increase in rates. NDP members in the Logan constituency noted in their resolution some individuals cannot work due to chronic health problems, disabilities and child-care needs. "Many welfare recipients in Manitoba are living at rates far below the amounts needed for safe housing, basic needs and nutrition," the riding association said.

Because of the sheer volume of resolutions that will be before the AGM, the motions are prioritized before and during the meeting, with many never making it to the convention floor.

The resolutions are not binding on the government.

In addition to debating policy, delegates to the party's annual meeting will hear speeches from Premier Greg Selinger and federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2014 A12

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