Manitobans are still crunching the numbers to see how they'll be affected by federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau's second budget.

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This article was published 23/3/2017 (1712 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitobans are still crunching the numbers to see how they'll be affected by federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau's second budget.

From provincial cabinet ministers to community activists to the people most at need of federal services and programs, Manitobans were still waiting Thursday for details on how dollars will be spent for child care, skills training, Lake Winnipeg, and social housing, among other areas.

Here's what we've learned about some of the key elements in the budget:

Indigenous peoples

The budget contains a $90-million increase in funding over two years for a program that helps indigenous students attend colleges and universities. The new money kicks in this year.

It’s expected that the Post-Secondary Student Support Program will help more than 4,600 students across Canada over the two-year period.

Ottawa has also committed $5 million per year for five years for Indspire, an indigenous-led registered charity that helps students attend post-secondary institutions and find good jobs. The money is conditional on the organization raising $3 million per year in matching funds from the private sector. If successful, this would provide $40 million over five years in bursaries and scholarships for more than 12,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis students across the country.

Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of MKO (Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Inc.), which represents northern First Nations, said she’s encouraged by the budget’s post-secondary education funding provisions.

"That’s a great hope for us," she said late Wednesday.

North Wilson said programs first announced in the 2016 budget are now starting to be rolled out. There’s money to renovate and build new housing in First Nations communities, but not enough, she said. "In Manitoba alone, we need about $200 million to start to meet standards and the need for (additional) housing in our communities."

Lowlands National Park

The budget announced Ottawa’s intention to create a third national park in Manitoba – Lowlands National Park -- joining Riding Mountain and the remote Wapusk National Park on Hudson Bay.

Also announced was a plan to protect, as a national marine conservation area, regions along the Churchill and Nelson rivers.

No detail was provided about the park initiative, although protection for pristine wetlands, forests, beaches and limestone features along the northwestern shore of Lake Winnipeg has been under discussion since the 1970s, when it met resistance from local leaders.

At the time, the proposed park, a four-hour drive north of Winnipeg along Highway 6, was envisioned as an entity 4,400 square kilometres in size.

To create a park, Ottawa would have to enter into negotiations with affected First Nations and the provincial government. Much of the area is provincial Crown land and First Nations traditional territory.

Postsecondary Education

Beginning in the 2018-2019 academic year, the eligibility for part-time grants will be expanded. In addition to student loans,the budget offers an $1,800 Canada Student Grant for part-time studies, as well as $1,360 in grant funding for students with dependent children.

The University of Manitoba sees investment in research and innovation, and to support the post-secondary financial needs of Indigenous students.

"We also look forward to the release of the Fundamental Science Review and how this will strengthen and improve our ability to compete on the world stage," president David Barnard said. He cited work-integrated learning, co-op programs, and Indigenous higher education.

Kevin Lamoureux, the University of Winnipeg's associate vice-president of indigenous affairs, lauded Ottawa for $60 million to help students reclaim their indigenous languages.

But said Michael Barkman, Manitoba chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, "The bigger picture is that students owe over $28 billion in public debt, and this budget does little to address that."

Child care

The budget declared that, "To give kids and their parents a real and fair chance at success, the government will invest $7 billion to support and create more high-quality, affordable child care spaces across the country, including programs for Indigenous children living on- and off-reserve. These investments could support as many as 40,000 new subsidized child care spaces for low- and modest-income families in the next three years."

Families Minister Scott Fielding is still waiting for details from the feds, both on funding and on what the province would need to do to get federal dollars. "Are there strings attached?" he wondered.

"We want a comprehensive plan, we want to partner," Fielding said Thursday. "We want a realistic plan. We want a balanced approach, not just centres, but home-based day care."

The profession still needs convincing.

"We've been here before. I don't think it's going to be a ton of money --- half empty, half full," lamented Pat Wege, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, who said the major promised dollars arrive after each of the next two elections.

"The federal government doesn't create spaces itself," Wege said. "In order for that money to flow, the provinces must be willing to commit to a multiyear funding plan. The good news in all of this is, the federal government is back at the table --- but there's a lot of ifs and buts."

Lake Winnipeg

Lake Winnipeg could benefit from two different programs announced on Wednesday -- one protecting major waterways from from invasive species and another to protect freshwater from toxic chemicals and improve water quality.

But the details have yet to be rolled out.

Water quality expert Eva Pip said it's disappointing not to see prompt action being taken. "I had hoped to see a substantial amount (of money devoted) not only for nutrients, but for zebra mussels. It's a double whammy for that poor lake."

An aide to Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox said that the province is still looking through the budget for word about Lake Winnipeg. "Budget documents often show a global figure without detail or specific breakdown."

Social Housing

Wednesday's social housing funding sounds great, says Tyler Pearce, chair of the Right to Housing Coalition's federal working group, but, "It's a stopgap measure."

Finance Minister Bill Morneau's budget proclaims that, "As part of a new National Housing Strategy, the government will invest more than $11.2 billion in a range of initiatives designed to build, renew and repair Canada’s stock of affordable housing and help to ensure that Canadians have adequate and affordable housing that meets their needs. This includes $225 million to improve housing conditions for Indigenous Peoples not living on-reserve."

Pearce said there's 'red flag' language in the budget about a transition of social housing, which she sees as Ottawa's proposing that community agencies will switch from a rent geared to income (RGI) model of social housing, to a mix of RGI and units rented at whatever the market will bear, with the rent subsidizing the RGI units.

Fielding couldn't shed any light on social housing Thursday. "There's a commitment to longterm dollars, but we don't have the details," he said.

Skills Training

The budget announces an Innovation and Skills Plan and supports innovation in key growth industries --- clean technology, digital and agri-food --- with new measures that will improve access to financing, encourage investment, support the demonstration of technologies and build the capacity necessary for Canadians to take advantage of growth opportunities and create good, well-paying jobs.

It boosts federal support through the Labour Market Transfer Agreements by $2.7 billion over six years. For Canadians looking for work, this means more opportunities to upgrade their skills, gain experience or get help to start their own business, said Morneau.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

larry.kusch@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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