Policing, private health care top Tory re-election agenda

Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government is banking on boosting police ranks and propping up health care with private providers to sway voters ahead of next year’s election.

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Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government is banking on boosting police ranks and propping up health care with private providers to sway voters ahead of next year’s election.

The government opened its final legislative session Tuesday with a throne speech that critics decried as a product of years of austerity.

“Manitoba is the home of hope and opportunity,” Premier Heather Stefanson told reporters prior to Lt.-Gov. Anita Neville reading the speech to the legislature.

“The future is bright for our children and grandchildren, as we continue to make the bold changes necessary to ensure, as they grow, they choose to call Manitoba home,” Stefanson said.

The government agenda focuses on public safety, health care, addictions treatment and affordability as the province continues through “these early days of moving beyond the pandemic.” The unpopular Tories have less than a year to woo voters as the vote is scheduled for Oct. 3, 2023.

“I believe Manitobans want to see firm commitments that help build strong and safe communities, have access to strong reliable health care, and make life more affordable in these challenging financial times,” Stefanson said.

The violent crime rate in Manitoba “is escalating and must be arrested,” said Neville, as she read the 18-page throne speech to a packed chamber. “Throughout our province, communities are confronted with unprecedented concerns over violent crime and public safety.”

As customary, the document was short on numbers or specifics; the government promised to provide more funding to address “street crime” and gangs and to add more police officers.

It pledged to pay for new technology and training for police in addition to increasing surveillance in downtown Winnipeg via a closed-circuit camera network.

“At the same time, we will work relentlessly to improve circumstances of homelessness, addictions, and mental health challenges in our communities,” Stefanson said, noting the province will add up to 1,000 addiction-treatment spaces, but did not provide a timeline to reach that goal.

Association of Manitoba Municipalities president Kam Blight welcomed the province’s pledge to bolster law enforcement, alongside commitments for health care and economic development.

“Whatever it takes to accomplish that, we need to do that,” Blight said. “Whether it’s making (police) more efficient… or that means hiring increased personnel or staff members, it would all benefit. But it’s the police presence that is really wanted.”

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Lt.-Gov. Anita Neville, followed by Premier Heather Stefanson, enters the Legislative Chamber to give her first throne speech.

The policing promises are designed to “repair the damage they themselves have caused,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

“All that they’re doing is trying to fix the previous cuts that were made while Premier Heather Stefanson was the minister of justice.”

The government offered nothing to average Manitobans who are struggling with the high cost of living or are worried about the Children’s Hospital being overwhelmed by children sick with viruses, he said.

The throne speech laid the foundation for a “multi-year, multibillion-dollar” capital investment in Winnipeg hospitals while increasing the province’s reliance on private health-care operators.

Stefanson described the capital promise as the largest investment in a generation that will modernize facilities. Manitoba needs more private health providers so the government can contract out services currently delivered by the public sector, she said.

“We had 17 years here where there was very, very little to no expansion of private delivery of health care services in our province, and if we want to expand capacity then this is the route we have to go,” Stefanson said.

Pressed on why the province should rely on the private sector instead of building capacity in the public system, Stefanson said other jurisdictions have taken a similar approach.

Manitobans will not pay out-of-pocket for services delivered by the private sector, she said.

“Once we recruit those individuals, we’ll have more, greater capacity within the province. The most important thing to us is that Manitobans get the health care that they need when they need it,” she said.

“Once we recruit those individuals, we’ll have more, greater capacity within the province… The most important thing to us, is that Manitobans get the health care that they need, when they need it.”–Premier Heather Stefanson

Kinew called it the wrong approach.

“Today we heard Premier Heather Stefanson, who cut our health care system as health minister, now come back as first minister to say that the only path forward is to privatize health care,” Kinew said.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the throne speech reads like a government trying to make up for its mistakes.

Private contractors have a role to play in health care, he said, but it needs to be “extremely limited” so it doesn’t siphon funding from the public system.

“It’s absolutely disgusting and outrageous for the government to have run our health care system into the ground and then say, ‘Now we’re going to try and back it out of the ditch using private operators.’”

— with files from Carol Sanders

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

Promises and highlights from the throne speech:

  • The release of a capital plan for major investment in provincial parks;
  • A review of all water related legislation;
  • Hiring more conservation officers and outfitting with new equipment and technology;
  • Increased funding for public libraries;
  • Funding for non-profit organizations to provide enhanced, sustainable services for people experiencing homelessness;
  • Implementation of a provincially coordinated suicide prevention strategy focused on youth and at-risk communities.
  • Increase in early childhood education operating grants to support increased wages early next year;
  • A new income support program for people with severe and prolonged disabilities;
  • A $4 million temporary rent reduction on Crown lands for ranchers, provided between 2023 and 2025.
History

Updated on Tuesday, November 15, 2022 2:12 PM CST: New photo added.

Updated on Tuesday, November 15, 2022 6:26 PM CST: Writethru

Updated on Tuesday, November 15, 2022 6:41 PM CST: Fixes typos

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