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The Manitoba government’s throne speech is a sign the ruling New Democrats are working off the same page, Premier Greg Selinger said today.
The speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee in the legislative assembly this afternoon, is also an indication the NDP are focused on governing than their own internal problems around Selinger’s leadership.
"I think that what we’ve presented here is something that all the members of caucus profoundly believe in," Selinger told reporters in a pre-speech briefing. "It’s also something that they’ve always contributed to.
"It’s part of the approach we’ve always taken and I look forward to it continuing. It’s always important to have a working majority to put forward a solid vision for Manitobans and then be able to take it to the people with the appropriate programs and measures to make it real for them in the communities and in their lives.
The 21-page speech does not contain any new or blockbuster programs or policies, but rather builds on what the NDP began several years ago, such as improving training and education programs. That includes continuing to work on capping class sizes from kindergarten through Grade 3 at 20 by hiring more teachers.
Selinger said new legislation will be introduced in the coming session to ensure class sizes continue to decrease.
Selinger also said in the coming months the NDP government will also eliminate interest on student loans.
As to what the cost of that would be to government, Selinger said that would be worked out in the spring budget.
"It’s just another measure to make post-secondary opportunities available to young people or anybody for that matter that wants to go back and upgrade themselves," he said.
The document also outlines several measure to further reduce spending with the government’s goal to be out of deficit before the next election in April 2016.
Selinger said the government plans to reduce its office space by more than 100,000 square feet and restructure the way it runs the internal machinations of day-to-day government to reduce costs.
He also said the government is on track to reduce the size of its civil service by 600—a pledge made in 2012 — through retirements and attrition, with 485 positions now off the payroll.
Selinger also repeated a pledge he made last week that the province should be in a position to introduce universally accessible daycare.
"That’s something we can roll out over several years," he said.
He added the province is pursuing two flood protection programs. One will see a new outlet for Lake Manitoba built to a higher capacity than first planned. The new outlet — a final route has not been selected — will be built to handle a higher capacity of 7,500 cubic feet per second of water.
"We’re going with the higher volume," the premier told reporters. "And that means the (Lake St. Martin) emergency channel will have to be upgraded by about the same amount," he said. "We know we need that additional capacity given the challenges we’ve seen in 2011 and 2014."
The second measure is a new bridge at Morris to protect Highway 75 from being closed during bad flood years on the Red River. The bridge will be built over the Morris River at the north end of Morris.
A final design and total cost of the bridge has not been worked out, but Selinger said it won’t be cheap.
"The idea is to build to international standards, the same standard they have in the United States," he said.
Selinger also said the government will work with Winnipeg’s new Mayor Brian Bowman on updating the City of Winnipeg Charter to strengthen transparency and accountability at city hall.
He also said the province will begin construction this year on a redevelopment of the Grace Hospital, which will include a new emergency department. The redevelopment of Grace Hospital was announced in 2011.
Before the speech, the five rebel former cabinet ministers took their seats in the backbenches and distinguished themselves by wearing orange corsages and boutonnières in contrast with the white flowers worn by their fellow NDP caucus members.
Theresa Oswald, the former jobs and economy minister and one of the five, drew a crowd of reporters and photographers as she emerged from the legislative chamber and pronounced her support for the speech.
"I will be voting for the throne speech, absolutely, because it’s about a vision for Manitobans that represents, I believe, the reason why the people of Seine River elected me to come here," she said, referring to promises to eliminate interest charges on student loans and increase opportunities for secondary students to take university credits in high school.
Opposition Leader Brian Pallister said he would introduce a non-confidence motion against the government as early as Monday.
He said it would give the dissident NDP MLAs an opportunity to "express their concerns about the lack of appropriate leadership and direction with the government..."
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Pallister said the throne speech failed to deal with the serious issues facing the province, including the dysfunction within the NDP government.
" It (the government’s internal problems) repels capital investment; it pushes people away from our province. It actually reduces the likelihood we’ll be able to create sustainable work and jobs here," Pallister said.
"All of those things need to be addressed. None of them were addressed today."
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said in addition to strengthening accountability at city hall the throne speech appears to support his Build Winnipeg campaign theme with its focus on infrastructure renewal and public transit.
"We’ve got the discussion going and we’ve got provincial partners that are open to that dialogue," Bowman said.
Throne speech highlights
On education, the government plans to: — Eliminate interest on student loans — Launch a ‘credit transfer portal’ to help students move easily between programs and institutions —Fund the development of five new “hybrid” university/college programs combining academic learning with technical skills for such fields as new media, engineering and water stewardship On infrastructure, the government intends to: — Build a new bridge over the Morris River north of Morris as part of a stepped up effort to keep Highway 75 open during spring flood season — Expand the capacity of the Lake St. Martin outlet channel and build a new outlet, with a capacity of 7,500 cubic feet per second, to drain Lake Manitoba On front-line services, the government will: — Hire “dozens” of doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners in forming new health teams in every region of the province. — Launch a new program at Red River college to train advanced care paramedics — Establish a new “cancer hub” in Winnipeg to better co-ordinate patient care On consumer protection, the government will: — Create new rules ensuring homeowners are provided upfront, guaranteed quotes and timelines for home improvements — Provide pet owners with up-front and “all-in pricing” for veterinary services — Help homebuyers and realtors more easily identify properties that were once used as grow-ups On the environment, the government will: — Introduce new legislation to protect Lake Winnipeg, preserve wetlands, and support efforts to create a new Assiniboine River Basin water planning area with Saskatchewan and North Dakota — Launch a new recycling strategy with the goal of reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills by 50 per cent by 2020. New initiatives to include curbside composting and increased recycling of commercial and industrial waste As well, the government will: — Strengthen workplace safety laws and introduce new legislation for firefighters, paramedics and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder — Reduce government office space by more than 100,000 square feet