Reconciliation with Indigenous communities, support for seniors and lessons learned from the pandemic were top of mind for members of the Manitoba Liberal party this weekend as the party charted course at its annual general meeting with a slew of policy resolutions.
The resolutions included support for creating a resource royalty sharing agreement with First Nations and other Indigenous communities, restoring lands impacted by Manitoba Hydro development and introducing legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The party also voted to accept resolutions in favour of a new minimum income supplement for seniors aged 60 to 65, to support those who are unable to work but not yet eligible for their full Canada Pension Plan benefit; adding vision aids to provincial health coverage; and to work to eliminate homelessness.
While resolutions touched on dozens of policy areas, from education to cannabis tax, reconciliation and improving conditions for people living in poverty were among those the party was the most "highly motivated" to pass, party leader and St. Boniface MLA Dougald Lamont said during a break Saturday afternoon.
"These are all areas where the pandemic exposed not just years, but sometimes decades of neglect," he said. "These are all issues where people have been crying out for change for 40 years. We’ve been doing everything we can to push for solutions that will actually work."
Among those proposed solutions were the number of resolutions aimed at fulfilling the Truth and Reconciliation’s 94 calls to action. The party voted to create a reconciliation task force and look at accelerating the process of returning land to First Nations through the Treaty Land Entitlement.
It also approved resolutions to improve equity in provincial services in rural and Northern Manitoba.
“The amount of work that has to be done at the provincial level is colossal... There’s so much the province can do to make things better for First Nations.” ‐ Liberal Party Leader and St. Boniface MLA Dougald Lamont
"The worst discrimination, often, is in provincial systems: justice, education and health care, especially for people who are non-Treaty," Lamont said. "The amount of work that has to be done at the provincial level is colossal... There’s so much the province can do to make things better for First Nations."
Lessons taken from the pandemic were also a big influence on the party’s policy directions, Lamont said, pointing at what he calls the "catastrophe" in senior care that played out during the worst waves of COVID-19. The party pledges to create a strategy to support seniors staying at home for longer should it form government.
The most divisive issue on the agenda was whether the party would resolve to kibosh daylight saving time in Manitoba. In the end, Lamont said, Liberals accepted the resolution, though not without strong feelings on both sides.
Still, he said, the party plans to listen to concerns from Northern folks about the impact of ending DST.
"Ultimately, Manitoba Liberals try to be practical as well," he said.
This was the first Liberal AGM since former Tory premier Brian Pallister stepped down Sept. 1, kicking off the ongoing Tory leadership race. While the shifting Manitoba political landscape may present some open questions, Lamont said Manitoba Liberals’s focus is not on the man who used to be on top of the governing party.
"Pallister stepped down, but he didn’t act alone," Lamont said. "There was always more to the PC party than Brian Pallister. We looked at what happened during the pandemic, and where things went so terribly wrong. Going back two years, you saw the seeds of the disaster that caused Pallister to resign."
The two-day AGM started Friday and continued through Saturday. It was the second year in a row that the Liberals have had to hold their AGM online. Typically, the party holds its AGMs in April, a schedule that will resume in 2022. Time and COVID-19 conditions will tell if that one will happen in person or virtually.
"I will say that meeting in person is always better," Lamont says. "I am a fan of technology, but like anyone else, there’s stuff you can get done (better) together in a room. It has its hurdles. We’re looking forward, like everybody else, to getting together."
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.