St. James MLA constituency report
Adrien Sala is the MLA for St. James.
Recent articles of Adrien Sala
Now that we’ve headed back to the legislature for our spring sitting, I wanted to provide a brief overview of the key issues and concerns I’ll be fighting for in the months to come alongside my NDP colleagues.
Firstly and most importantly, we’re going to continue fighting for better quality healthcare services for Manitobans. Progressive Conservative cuts have pushed our health-care system to the brink, and Manitobans are facing a lot of additional challenges and hardships as a result. Over 160,000 people continue to wait to receive the tests and surgeries they need. Patients continue to be shipped hundreds of kilometres away from their homes to receive medical care. This is totally and completely unacceptable. Manitobans deserve better, and I’ll be working to hold the PC government to account for these and other health-care related failures we’ve seen.
As the official Opposition critic for Manitoba Hydro, I’ll also continue to be very focused on ensuring the PCs are prevented from unnecessarily raising hydro rates on Manitobans. In the last couple years, we’ve seen them attempt to pass legislation that would have eliminated independent oversight over hydro rate-setting (Bill 35), and we’ve also seen them increase hydro rates via legislation, the first time this has been done in provincial history. I will continue fighting to ensure energy rates are as affordable as possible and that they’re set through an independent process, not at the PC cabinet table.
Rising hydro rates are only one aspect of our growing affordability crisis in Manitoba. One issue of particular concern, especially for seniors and people on fixed incomes in our community, is that the PCs have allowed the costs of rental housing to skyrocket. That’s why I once again introduced Bill 218 - The Residential Tenancies Amendment Act which, if the PC government supports it, will help to ensure that above-guideline rent increases imposed upon Manitoba renters are fair and manageable.
The Progressive Conservative government started off this year on a disappointing note.
The premier openly gave up on protecting Manitobans through this Omicron surge, saying that “the government can’t protect everybody” and telling people they’re on their own. Just as with former premier Brian Pallister, the PCs under Heather Stefanson are avoiding all accountability.
Premier Stefanson has failed to take proactive steps to protect people, just like her time as health minister during our third wave.
The surge of Omicron in the province has put a strain on our health-care system, a system that was stripped of funding by the PCs. Over the past two years, the PC government has failed to add enough capacity to the hospital system to handle the influx of COVID-19 patients.
Manitoba doctors have sounded the alarm to let us know that our ICUs have reached capacity and that we are once again on the verge of sending patients out of province for care.
This is a critical situation which demands action, yet the Stefanson government seems intent on ignoring calls from health experts to do what’s needed. Military aid should have been called in weeks ago, yet the government waited until our system reached a full-blown crisis with more surgeries cancelled.
In some cases, its unwillingness to act seems to be just another bad repeat of the Pallister government’s actions during the third wave.
Here’s a summary of some key areas where the Stefanson government is refusing to act:
Last month, Progressive Conservative party members elected a new leader and the first female premier in Manitoba — Heather Stefanson.
While history was made in our province, there is nothing new about Premier Heather Stefanson. She may claim that her political agenda is nothing like Pallister’s, but in fact, she is not far removed from Pallister’s disreputable legacy. As health minister and Pallister’s deputy-premier, her cuts eroded our healthcare system and left Manitobans struggling during the pandemic.
Alongside Pallister, she made decisions that continue to negatively affect Manitoba families and communities. During the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, decisions she made as health minister led to us sending our sickest ICU patients out of province for care.
When asked if she could have done more to protect Manitobans from Covid-19, her response was “coulda, shoulda, woulda.” She went missing in action when Manitobans needed her leadership most and she won’t stand up for Manitobans now.
Manitoba drivers are losing out on cheaper car insurance.
This October, the NDP got back into the legislature and revealed to all Manitoba drivers that their Autopac should have been much cheaper this year, but the Progressive Conservative government is instead using the dollars you pay for insurance to pay for things that are the responsibility of the Manitoba government.
Owing to a significant reduction in the number of insurance claim payouts throughout the pandemic, Manitoba Public Insurance saw a sizeable increase in its overall revenues last year.
Surplus funds such as these would normally be returned to Manitobans in the form of rebates or lowered Autopac premiums but the government instead decided to use these funds to pay down MPI’s driver and vehicle licensing costs.
Over the last six months, a broad coalition of Manitobans fought against the Progressive Conservative government’s attempt to dismantle our education system with its disastrous Bill 64. I was proud to be part of an Opposition caucus that also fought hard against this bill.
We used our legislative powers to delay its passing, and as a result, parents, educators and communities were given time over the summer to organize against the bill. In the end, community won, and government has agreed to retract Bill 64.
While this is an important victory for Manitobans, the PCs continue to work towards defunding our education system through direct budget cuts and other means. Just this past year, the PCs cut $5 million from our K-12 system. They also recently passed Bill 71, which will amount to a quarter-billion dollar cut in revenues for our schools this year alone. These losses for our schools will double to a half-billion dollars by next year.
When we think about the impacts of these cuts - less one-on-one time for kids with their teachers, fewer education assistants to support those who need additional supports, and less nutritional programs to help children focus on learning - it’s clear that the fight against this PC government’s attempts to dismantle our education system are far from over.
This September, much like last year, the return to the classroom is filled with uncertainty thanks to a lack of planning or action by this government.
The government has failed schools, in St. James and across the province, since taking office. They removed the cap on K-3 class sizes, making it harder for kids to get the attention they need. When the pandemic hit, health experts called for physical distancing in schools, but this was impossible due to the government’s lack of investment and failure to hire more teachers to keep class sizes small.
The government has cut education funding below the rate of inflation and enrollment. They sat on millions of dollars of federal pandemic funding for schools. And this summer, instead of making classrooms safe for September, they’ve been focused on their own internal conflict and wasting money to promote Bill 64.
My NDP colleagues and I have been talking to Manitobans about what our schools need. While the government was silent, we put forward a five-point plan to protect our kids. We called on the province to upgrade ventilation systems in every school, set up in-school vaccine clinics that make it easier for families and staff to get vaccinated, create smaller class sizes by hiring more teachers, EAs and other support staff, increase mental health supports for kids and staff, and implement paid sick leave so families can afford to stay home when their kids are sick. St. James families deserve a government that does more for our schools, not less.
It appears that the Progressive Conservative government is planning on raising Hydro rates on Manitobans for the second time in a year, all without oversight from the Public Utilities Board.
At a Legislative Hydro committee meeting which took place at the end of June, the CEO of Manitoba Hydro shared that Manitobans can expect to see a 3.5 per cent rate increase effective Oct. 1.
When accounting for the 2.9 per cent increase which was imposed upon us in December 2020, Manitobans will have experienced 6.4 per cent in increases in their electricity rates within a 10-month span, all at a time when many Manitobans are facing greater economic insecurity than ever before.
One of the biggest concerns with these PC rate increases is that they’re being imposed without any oversight from the PUB. Typically, when a rate increase is proposed, the PUB reviews it to determine whether an that increase is justified to help Hydro meet its financial obligations.
This year marks the 100th birthday of the municipality of St. James, a community which was settled on Treaty One Territory, and on the traditional homeland of the Métis Nation.
The municipality of St. James has a rich and interesting history which goes all the way back to 1850, when the Hudson’s Bay Company granted land along the Assiniboine River to create the Parish of St. James.
By the 1870s, St. James was being described as “the finest locality in the province.” It boasted a school, a flour mill, a post office, many stores, a brewery, and a small Anglican church which still stands in the same spot today. The fifth premier of our province, John Norquay, was one of the first to teach at the local community school.
As the years went on, the population of St. James grew exponentially as more settlers came from eastern Canada and abroad. Neighbourhoods began to be built around some of the landmarks in the area such as the Deer Lodge Hospital, the St. James Anglican Church, and Linwood School.
Last month, Brian Pallister and his PC government introduced The Education Modernization Act (Bill 64) into the Legislature. If passed into law, this bill will completely dismantle the public education system in Manitoba as we know it.
Bill 64 will create a massive centralization of power within the provincial government as it proposes to dissolve all English language school boards in Manitoba, including our own St. James Assiniboia School Division. This means that instead of having local voices influencing what happens in our schools, all decisions relating to educational programming in West Winnipeg will be made by a centrally appointed ‘education authority’ with no understanding of local needs and zero accountability to families in our community.
Locally developed programs such as the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy, which offers low-income kids in St. James an opportunity to play hockey, will be placed at risk as a result of the centralization process. Other important local programs ,such as our Grade 3 swim program, and the much-loved Literacy Links program, are also likely to be defunded once our local division is eliminated.
Child care centres currently located in our schools will also be under threat as there will be nothing stopping a centrally appointed education authority from deciding to overtake the school spaces they presently occupy. Many of these child care centres were fought for by our local school division and, without a local champion, they could easily be lost.
Citizens deserve to know the legislative agenda of their government. This is crucial as legislation contains the plans that a government has in store for its citizens.
In recognition of this, legislative processes across Canada and the entire Westminster parliamentary system commonly offer citizens a significant amount of time to review legislation brought forward by their governments, all with the goal of ensuring they have ample opportunity to organize in support or in opposition of legislation being proposed.
Makes sense, right?
Apparently, the Pallister government disagrees with the need for this type of transparency. In a complete and total break with tradition, it took the unprecedented step of withholding 19 pieces of legislation for months after their introduction. At the time of writing this article, several pieces of legislation are still being withheld from Manitobans.
I hope all families throughout west Winnipeg had a safe and wonderful holiday season. Though many of us missed our traditional holiday dinners and New Year’s celebrations, we can all take solace in the fact that our sacrifices have helped keep Manitobans safe.
While we have much to look forward to in 2021, Manitobans are still facing more uncertainty than they should be due to our provincial government’s failure to plan for an efficient vaccine rollout. At the time of writing this column, Manitoba had among the lowest per capita rates of vaccination in Canada, leaving thousands of seniors and vulnerable Manitobans wondering when they might expect to get their shots.
Instead of holding themselves accountable for their lack of planning, the Pallister government has been working to shift blame to the federal government by suggesting that it has yet to ship sufficient doses of the vaccine to Manitoba. The fact is, thousands of vaccine doses have been sitting idle in freezers while our government has been rushing to put together a last-minute plan.
The premier has also suggested that Manitoba faces unique vaccine distribution challenges due to the remoteness of our northern communities. The last I checked, almost every single other province faces this challenge. Our government needs to stop making excuses and should instead begin the work of fast-tracking the administration of vaccines to those who need them.
As the year comes to a close, I wanted to share a positive story about some amazing community-building work which has been happening in St. James over the last several months.
Since September, community members in the Sargent Park and Minto neighbourhoods of the constituency have been coming together to work towards the creation of two brand new residents’ associations. Our office has been working alongside residents in support of this project, and it has been an incredible experience to date.
These new residents’ associations will help the neighbourhoods they represent to speak with one voice in responding to community problems, and they’ll act as a vehicle for bringing community together around events like barbecues and community clean-up events. In short, they’re community-building machines.
On Sat., Dec. 19, we celebrated the establishment of both residents’ associations at a community-wide Zoom meeting.
On the Nov. 5 sitting day of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, my colleagues and I remained at the Legislature until the early morning on Fri., Nov. 6.
Our reason for staying late was to fight against a draconian omnibus bill known as Bill 2 – The Budget Implementation and Tax Statues Amendment Act, which the Pallister government was attempting to pass. While we had many concerns with the bill, one of our biggest was that it was set to make life more expensive for everyday Manitobans.
That evening, the government made life a little harder for working Manitobans by increasing Manitoba Hydro’s rates by 2.9 per cent.
Because this rate increase was hidden inside an omnibus bill, it was never reviewed by our Public Utilities Board (PUB). In normal circumstances, Manitoba Hydro would submit a rate increase request to the PUB, and this request would be reviewed by the independent board to verify that it was actually needed to help Hydro pay down its debts. But Manitobans will never know if Hydro actually needed this rate increase, because the decision to raise rates was made by Premier Brian Pallister and his cabinet, not the PUB.
St. James is home to a large number of outstanding child-care centres which have been providing high quality child-care services to our community for many years.
Similar to other communities across Manitoba, there has been a shortage of spaces to meet the demand of area families. For this reason, the recent opening of a brand-new facility at Assiniboine Children’s Centre is a true reason for community celebration.
This September, the Assiniboine Children’s Centre quietly opened up a brand new, state-of-the-art infant centre which is offering new child-care spaces to serve families across St. James. These new spaces will play an important role in helping to ensure local families can continue to get ahead while their children benefit from the high-quality early childhood education the centre offers. The value of these new spaces cannot be overstated as they will serve our community for generations to come.
While government grants covered the costs of constructing the new building, they did not cover costs relating to purchasing equipment and furnishing the space. To cover these costs, staff and supporters of the Assiniboine Children’s Centre were required to fundraise $200,000 on their own, and it was only thanks to their ingenuity and remarkable commitment to the community that they were successful in these efforts.
Opportunities to engage in sports and recreation are incredibly important for seniors in our community, and that’s why the work of the Winnipeg West Pickleball Club is so important.
For many years running, the WWPC has been working hard to promote the sport of pickleball while offering spaces where people of all ages can participate in this fast-growing game.
Pickleball has seen a huge spike in popularity over the last few years, as it offers seniors an opportunity to play a fun and fast-paced sport which incorporates the best aspects of badminton and table tennis. It is typically played on tennis courts or in gymnasiums but, as the WWPC demonstrated this summer, pickleball clubs can also get creative and make use of under-utilized outdoor spaces.
Thanks to its partnership with the Bourkevale Community Centre, the WWPC was able to offer a pickleball drop-in nearly every single day of the week this past summer by re-purposing unused hockey rinks.
With so many families staying close to home this summer, I was provided with an excellent opportunity to connect with people in our community.
My team and I have been out door-knocking at a safe distance since early July, and I’ve greatly enjoyed connecting and learning from community members about issues and opportunities throughout our neighbourhoods in west Winnipeg.
Of all the issues I’m hearing about on the doorstep, the No. 1 concern is whether we are prepared for a safe return to school.
As a father, these concerns resonate with me deeply as our family prepares to send our daughter to elementary school this fall. I believe our school divisions have done an excellent job in preparing for a safe return to school, but the bottom line is that they are facing significant provincial funding limitations which are restricting their ability to respond to the challenge.
A couple weeks ago we saw our province enter Phase Three of reopening and restarting our economy. Many people are feeling excited, but many others have been left feeling anxious about what the future will hold.
In St. James, I’ve had many families reach out over the past month — as things such as child-care facilities have begun to reopen — who are still struggling to access child care to allow them to return to work. I’ve had other individuals reach out to me from the service, entertainment, industrial and many other sectors concerned about when or if they will even get their jobs back and the lack of other jobs available.
Finally, I’ve heard local St. James riding businesses that have struggled financially over the last few months, wondering when the province will step up and help.
What I have just stated has a common theme — Manitobans want to return to work. They want a sense of normalcy as our province begins to reopen. But they don’t have a premier who is willing to support them.