First throne speech for Pallister PCs

Agenda includes spending cuts, health task force, end to vote subsidies

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The rubber hits the road for Brian Pallister’s new Progressive Conservative government Monday as the first session of the 41st legislature kicks off with the throne speech.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/05/2016 (2399 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The rubber hits the road for Brian Pallister’s new Progressive Conservative government Monday as the first session of the 41st legislature kicks off with the throne speech.

The PCs, who last ruled Manitoba in 1999, were elected on a promise to deliver lower taxes, reduced health-care wait times and sound fiscal management. 

But Pallister’s pledge to slow the growth of government spending while maintaining frontline services is easier said than done, with child welfare agencies labouring to protect kids and the cost of health care and education continually rising.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier-designate Brian Pallister holds a news conference in the Legislative Assembly Committee Room in the Manitoba Legislative Building Wednesday. At right is a portrait of former Premier Gary Filmon. Kristin Annable / Larry Kusch story April 27 2016

Pallister has promised a budget in two weeks and a relatively light legislative agenda at first, while his ministers seek efficiencies in all government departments. 

“I think they’ve probably got an easy time of it for one to two years… because these (opposition) parties have to replace leaders and until a permanent leader is found, the parties will have difficulty getting their act together in terms of focusing their attacks on and challenges to the new government,” said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

This afternoon’s throne speech — the second to be read by Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon in the last six months — is expected largely to be a rewrite of the Tories’ election campaign playbook. 

A week before the April 19 vote, Pallister listed 15 priorities for his first 100 days in government. He said most of his priorities wouldn’t require spending and the vast majority don’t require legislation.

The PCs promised to abolish a relatively new annual subsidy to political parties that provides them with operating funds based on the number of votes they receive. The Tories have never accepted the subsidy, calling it a vote tax. 

The PCs are also expected to introduce legislation almost immediately to restore public plebiscites before Manitobans are saddled with major tax increases, such as an increase in the PST.

They will likely announce their intention to introduce several government reviews, audits and task forces, including a task force on health care wait times that is expected to produce recommendations on how to obtain quicker service in emergency rooms as well as for orthopedic surgeries.

“We’ve got wait times that are unacceptably long,” Pallister said during the election campaign.

A budget will follow near the end of May, and Pallister has indicated it will include measures to reduce ambulance fees across the province and boost funding for tourism.

The PCs didn’t promise voters the world to get elected. In fact, they tried to temper expectations while they work to slay a government deficit that has grown to more than $700 million.

A new budget in two weeks could show that the province was even further in the red last year than was previously thought.

The Tories plan to join the New West Partnership trade agreement that Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia established in 2010.

The Tories have also promised to improve the troubled child-welfare system by ensuring government departments and service agencies share information.

“We asked for a mandate to act on three major, broad initiatives. Those being lower taxes… better services and of course a stronger economy,” Pallister said last week.

Pallister has promised to work toward a balanced budget, following a string of NDP deficits that started in 2009, but has not committed to a deadline.

He said last week his party was still trying to get a handle on the amount of red ink.

The NDP estimated the deficit at $773 million in March, but Pallister said it has grown since then.

After Pallister’s PCs swept the province, taking 40 of 57 seats in the largest Tory victory in Manitoba history, Greg Selinger immediately announced he was stepping down as NDP leader.

Rana Bokhari flirted briefly with the idea of staying on as Liberal leader, but has since said she will step down. Bokhari, who has never held a seat, came in third in Fort Rouge on April 19.

There will be no shortage of drama, beginning today, as the new government gets its feet wet.

‘I think they’ve probably got an easy time of it for one to two years… because these (opposition) parties have to replace leaders and until a permanent leader is found, the parties will have difficulty getting their act together…’– Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba 

How effective will the opposition parties be in holding the new government to account?

Even interim NDP Leader Flor Marcelino acknowledged she isn’t a strong public speaker.

Several members of her supporting cast, such as former cabinet ministers Andrew Swan (Minto), James Allum (Fort Garry-Riverview) and Kevin Chief (Point Douglas) are expected to carry a heavy load, as are experienced MLAs Jim Maloway (Elmwood), Matt Wiebe (Concordia) and newcomers Nahanni Fontaine (St. Johns) and Wab Kinew (Fort Rouge).

Marcelino underwent surgery for a brain tumour in 2002. Since then, she said, she processes questions and answers more slowly.

“I’m more comfortable writing. If I need to speak, I’m a little challenged and handicapped if you ask me to speak right away,” she said in a recent interview.

Selinger has received a relatively light assignment as critic for climate change and francophone affairs, but he may be eager to rise to ask the tough questions that used to be aimed at him.

If any of Pallister’s cabinet ministers prove shaky in their new roles, there are more than twice as many Tories outside of cabinet who are eager to take their spot.

Until Finance Minister Cameron Friesen introduces his budget in a couple of weeks, the opposition parties won’t have a lot to chew on during question period. 

With only three MLAs, the Liberals fell one seat short of official party status.

Official status offers higher research funds and speaking rights in the House. 

Newcomers Judy Klassen (Kewatinook) and Cindy Lamoureux (Burrows), along with veteran Jon Gerrard (River Heights), will have to prove the Liberal party’s mettle.

MLAs will elect a Speaker before the ceremonies surrounding the opening of the legislature begins.

Veteran Charleswood Tory MLA Myrna Driedger is expected to win handily in a competition against the NDP’s Mohinder Saran (the Maples). 

Lt.-Gov. Filmon will leave Government House at 1 p.m. and, upon her arrival at the front stairs of the Legislative Building, will receive full military honours.

Capt. Blake Grimea will lead members of the 26th Field Artillery Regiment from Brandon and Portage la Prairie as they fire a 15-gun salute. During the salute, the lieutenant-governor will inspect a 100-person guard of honour made up of members of 17 Wing Winnipeg led by Maj. Yann Boudreau. The Royal Canadian Air Force band will provide the musical pageantry for the ceremony.

— with files from The Canadian Press

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.canick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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