Fort Garry constituency report
Mark Wasyliw is the NDP MLA for Fort Garry.
Recent articles of Mark Wasyliw
Manitobans are really feeling the pinch from inflation as things like groceries and transportation become more and more expensive. We are looking for a collaborative approach to help address the issue, and that is why the NDP caucus has called for all parties at the Manitoba Legislature to work together to find real solutions. Unfortunately, recent announcements by the Progressive Conservative government don’t adequately address the needs of Manitobans. We know over the last few years that Manitobans have experienced increased costs because of the province’s actions.
Many seniors are renters. Over the last two years, they have seen their taxes raised by $175 per year because the province reduced their education property tax tebate. Manitobans have seen double-digit increases to their Hydro bills since the PCs came to office. That’s hundreds of dollars out of people’s hands when it’s needed. Right now the PC government has a bill before the legislature that allows annual Hydro bill increases of five per cent. That will have a huge impact on many families living paycheque to paycheque.
We know that low-income folks are disproportionately affected by inflation, yet many are left behind by the PC approach. Students have seen the cost of university tuition increase by 18 per cent and college tuition by $1,000 more per year. Those needing physiotherapy after surgery are now having to pay for such services out of pocket.
Those costs can really add up. It’s more than nickels and dimes, which was the last increase the PC Government made to the minimum wage — an unacceptably low 15 cents per hour. Even now, this fall Manitoba will still have the second-lowest minimum wage in the country. That’s just not good enough. We believe that someone who works full time should not live in poverty.
We are now two months into the ever-challenging and evolving crisis in Ukraine, where Russia is committing war crimes against Ukrainian civilians. Here in Manitoba, we have a multi-generational and vibrant Ukrainian community. My family and I are proud members of the Ukrainian community in our province, and I recognize how difficult this period is for those who have loved ones in Ukraine. Unfortunately, despite the fact that so many Ukrainians call Manitoba home, the Progressive Conservative government continues to fall disappointingly short in the support they have provided to Ukrainians.
The federal government and other provincial jurisdictions have taken actions that far exceed the PC Government’s. It was recently announced that the federal government had pledged $100 million in aid to help the humanitarian crisis that has emerged as a result of this illegal invasion. At the provincial level, Alberta has committed $11 million while Newfoundland has opened an office in Poland to help Ukrainian refugees relocate in that province. To date Manitoba has committed just $800,000.
In true Manitoba fashion, many folks in a variety of communities have stepped up in this government’s absence. I have been to countless fundraisers around Winnipeg, but also in Brandon, Gimli and Dauphin. There has been no better example of the generous spirit of Manitobans then by seeing folks giving what they can to support their community members, friends and loved ones impacted by this ongoing tragedy. To all those who have donated money, time, or support to the efforts to end the war in Ukraine, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
It is not too late for the PC government to take more meaningful action to support Ukrainians in Manitoba and abroad. It is critical that financial aid be provided and significant investments be made to help Ukrainians resettle in Manitoba. The PC government could also engage with the business community to match skills to job opportunities or use an all-party committee to work collaboratively on ideas to resettle Ukrainian refugees in Manitoba and across Canada. I will continue to urge this government to take more urgent action to support our Ukrainian community and to support the safe resettlement of all those impacted by wars as they take refuge here in Manitoba.
As we begin the new year, I would like to wish my constituents and all Manitobans a happy and healthy 2022, and I hope that you were able to safely enjoy your holidays.
Unfortunately, as we usher in a new year, it is clear that Premier Heather Stefanson, her cabinet, and the rest of the Progressive Conservative caucus will continue to take the same approach as her predecessor. In the past few weeks, the PC government has been missing in action as Omicron has surged in the province.
In Fort Garry, we saw an outbreak in one school in our constituency where 10 per cent of the students tested positive for COVID-19. Chaos ensued as parents were not notified appropriately and were sent scrambling trying to decide what was best for their families. This is not something people should be forced to do. Our government should have been taking clear and concise action to keep students safe in these times of uncertainty. There has been ample time during the different waves for our province to make the necessary investments to keep classrooms safe, but with each wave they have failed to do so, first under Brian Pallister, and now under Premier Stefanson.
Local businesses are also experiencing the same uncertainty and lack of support that they have gone through repeatedly at various stages of this pandemic. New restrictions were imposed upon them with absolutely no notice at one of their busiest times of the entire calendar year. While the NDP caucus and I fully support restrictions that will preserve the health and safety of Manitobans, the government should be communicating clearly and consistently in order to better prepare us to adapt to the pandemic’s latest challenges. Businesses and workers are now left in a precarious state and the employment of many is at risk once again. Following in the footsteps of its previous leader, this government has taken no action to provide meaningful support to businesses during this extremely difficult period.
The holiday season is here! For many, it will be a time to gather safely and to celebrate together. I want to thank the many folks in Fort Garry who have done their part to make their community safe by getting vaccinated so we can all gather safely and enjoy the holiday season this year.
It is important to recognize that the holiday season can often be a difficult time for many people. There are several initiatives in our community that you can donate to or be involved in that help spread goodwill throughout our community and help those less fortunate enjoy this time of year. If you can give back at all this holiday season, I encourage you to do so in any way you see fit. This is particularly appreciated as we continue to face the challenges of the evolving global pandemic.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Fort Garry Toy Library, which lends toys to those who’d like to use them. It’s held every Saturday morning in the basement at the Fort Garry United Church at 800 Point Rd., from 9 a.m. to noon. The library is run by two Fort Garry residents who felt the need to give back and opened its doors in April 2021.
There are a variety of toys folks can come borrow for three weeks. They can then return them and take new ones. If you or someone you know has children of all ages, I encourage you to visit the Toy Library and check out some fun, engaging toys.
On Oct. 30, the governing Progressive Conservative party elected a new leader who became premier of Manitoba on Nov. 2 —Heather Stefanson.
But all this means is that nothing has changed. These are the same old PCs, who just don’t care about Manitobans and will keep cutting things that mean the most to you.
For years, Premier Stefanson stood by Brian Pallister’s side as deputy premier and helped cut health care and close intensive-care unit beds — pushing our healthcare system into crisis. She also seconded Bill 64 and continued to cut funding to post-secondary schools every year.
As Premier Stefanson steps into her role, she will be immediately facing a strike at the University of Manitoba as a result of her government’s cuts and interference. The University of Manitoba Faculty Association, which represents more than 1,000 staff, is currently striking as a result of Pallister-imposed wage freezes which are affecting recruitment and retention of great and bright scholars.
This month, I’ve had the privilege of door-knocking to hear about what is important to Fort Garry families.
Affordable housing has been a top concern I’ve heard at the doorstep. We are in a housing crisis, and the PC government has made it worse by cutting social housing and selling off hundreds of units to private businesses - a total loss of 1,700 units from 2017 to 2020. At the same time, the wait list for housing has grown into the thousands.
Many Fort Garry families are also concerned about ensuring a safe return to school for our kids and educators. But instead of using the summer to make pro-active investments in ventilation, staffing, and other supports, the PCs have been too busy with their internal conflict and dithering over Bill 64 to provide the leadership Manitobans need.
The NDP caucus is listening to families and fighting for you on the things you care about, including our education system. We have called for investments in our schools to keep our kids safe. In addition, last spring we used our power as the official Opposition to delay Bill 64. We know that legislation was the wrong approach for our kids and our schools. Because of our delay in the Legislature, parents, teachers, school staff and community members had time to learn about the bill and make their voices heard.
With just weeks until the start of the 2021-22 school year, kids, parents, and educators want to be assured that schools will be safe.
Experts tell us that wearing a mask is one of the simplest things we can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially with the more transmissible and dangerous Delta variant becoming the prominent strain across Canada.
Instead of listening to the science, the Progressive Conservative government has eliminated the mask mandate in schools. It just doesn’t make sense. I know many families in Fort Garry are disappointed that the PCs would choose politics over the safety of our kids.
We’ve been here before. In each wave of this pandemic, the PC government has had the chance to learn from other provinces — but it has squandered that opportunity every time. Now, we are watching history repeat itself yet again. The PCs refuse to learn from their own mistakes and Manitobans have paid the price; this time it’s our kids who are most at risk.
In the midst of one of the most challenging school years in our history, students in Fort Garry have excelled. As we celebrate the end of another successful school year, I want to highlight some of the fantastic work students in our community have accomplished.
University of Manitoba student Vimala Bharathi is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of biosystems engineering and became a finalist in the University’s Three Minute Thesis competition for her presentation entitled “Understanding the Insect Movement Pattern Inside a Grain Bin.”
Vimala has built her career on research and development to reduce the losses in food grains, realizing that losses which occur post-harvest are a threat to food security and sustainability, two critically important issues facing our society today. Congratulations and thank you to Vimala for the important work she continues to do.
I was thrilled to award an MLA scholarship to Mytien Doan, who graduated from Vincent Massey Collegiate this year. Mytien has an extensive volunteer resume and supports many organizations with her efforts, and still maintained an average over 90 per cent while managing this busy schedule. After a trip to Vietnam reinforced her own personal privilege, she is committed to improving her community for the long term. Mytien will be pursuing her postsecondary studies in the field of science, and hopes to eventually pursue a career in medicine. Congratulations, Mytien.
Earlier this month, my office became aware of actions by Manitoba Hydro to clear out trees and bush in Sandra Crowson Park in East Fort Garry. We were alerted of this development by members of the public who shared their concerns about the lack of environmental stewardship and consultation on the part of the Crown corporation in clearing forestry in the park.
Sandra Crowson Park is a beautiful park enjoyed by many in the community, and is home to a wide range of wildlife, including certain protected species. While Manitoba Hydro has the right to maintain and service hydro lines all over the province, the Crown corporation has a duty to complete any necessary and required environmental surveys of the locations in question, in accordance with the federal and provincial legislation.
Furthermore, there was no notice provided to community members and stakeholders before the aggressive clear-cutting began, and as a result there was no opportunity for folks to voice their opposition to this endeavour.
Residents of the Fort Garry community, particularly those living in the area surrounding the park, have been hard at work to protect the park and wildlife from further disruption of their habitat. The residents group engaged independent consultants to conduct an informal bird survey in the park, which confirmed the presence of five nesting sites determined by breeding bird behaviour and active nests. Species found in the survey include great crested flycatchers, red-eyed vireos, and white-breasted nuthatches, which are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Act.
Small business owners have helped sustain our economy throughout the pandemic. They have pivoted through various health orders and have invested thousands of dollars into supplies to operate safely. We thank all small business owners for their ongoing efforts to keep Manitobans safe.
Manitoba has some of the highest COVID-19 infection rates per capita, which has led to new restrictions closing down or limiting the operations of restaurants, gyms, retail stores, salons, and many other businesses. Yet, the most recent announcement of supports by the Pallister government completely fails the sector.
Since November, the Manitoba Bridge Grant program has only offered small businesses supports up to the amount of $5,000, per round. The government recently announced a fourth round of payments but the amount of support has not changed, even though challenges have compounded for small business over the last six months.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says that one-third of small businesses in Manitoba are not making their normal revenue, and have incurred, on average, $180,000 in debts. The PC government is fully aware of these statistics but is unwilling to increase supports and also create sector-specific ones. Their blanket approach has continued to leave small businesses behind.
We have recently learned more about the Pallister government’s plan regarding the education property tax rebate, and such plans should raise concerns for Fort Garry residents and all Manitobans.
The government originally planned to phase out the property tax rebate over 10 years, but its new plan will phase it out in just four years. The 25 per cent rebate, which will be available to property owners across the province, fails to take into account the ability to pay and thus poses the highest benefits to the wealthiest property owners.
For example, in Winnipeg, where the average property owner pays approximately $1,500 in education property taxes, taxpayers will be issued a $375 rebate. Meanwhile, a property owner who pays $16,000 per year in education property tax will receive a rebate of $4,000. The clear winners of this plan are the wealthiest property owners. This is the opposite of a progressive tax policy.
The Pallister government’s plan also negatively impacts renters. At present, renters are entitled to a $700 tax credit each year,but this will be phased out as a result of the current plan. In Fort Garry, many constituents are renters, and folks have relied on this tax credit to offset living costs each year. Why is the Pallister government so intent on lining the pockets of wealthy property owners, while taking away a credit that benefits Manitoba renters?
Manitobans recently learned new information surrounding the province’s K-12 education review, which had been withheld from the public for the last year. Alongside this long-awaited review, the Pallister government brought forward Bill 64 which suggests new plans to continue their cuts against the education sector.
Fort Garry has two public school divisions, the Winnipeg School Division and Pembina Trails School Division, and the Pallister government’s new plans will have a direct impact on these local schools and communities close to home.
Many Fort Garry residents have a connection to public schools in our neighborhoods. Families send their kids to school locally, while others work and support youth in schools across the constituency. We know that school divisions face unique challenges and it is essential that schools can offer additional supports to meet the needs of the community. Resources such as English as Additional Language programs, community support resources and other education supports cannot be taken away from schools. These and many other facets of our education system are under direct threat because of the Pallister government.
On top of the long-awaited K-12 review, and now this hefty piece of legislation, continued cuts to education by the Pallister government have already been negatively impacting school divisions.
We recently discovered the Pallister government has started to take steps towards the dismantling of Manitoba Hydro.
Specifically, we have learned that a subsidiary of Manitoba Hydro, Manitoba Hydro International (MHI), is being forced to close its international consulting business. For Manitobans and those of us in Fort Garry, this means potentially higher hydro rates and the loss of stable jobs for members of our communities. Now that this decision has been made public, it is clear that the spectre of privatization is looming over one of the most important Crown corporations in the province.
Manitobans have been down this road before. In the 1990s, the Filmon government put the interests of corporations over the best interests of Manitobans when it privatized Manitoba Telecom Services (now known as BellMTS). Since then, Manitobans have been forced to pay higher rates for wireless and phone connectivity than comparable jurisdictions such as Saskatchewan, which still owns SaskTel. At a time in which connectivity is more important than ever before, it should not be forgotten that the reality that Manitobans pay such a steep price for what should be considered an essential service began the day MTS was privatized.
MHI has generated over $80 million in profits over the years by selling our transmission expertise abroad in various markets, helping keep rates low at home. This loss creates an environment for private businesses to step in and assume these profits directly, at a cost to the public.
As we navigate into the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to see a complete lack of planning, consultation, and supports for small businesses in Manitoba by the Pallister government.
We know the impact of this ineffective leadership is being felt across the province, and it is also having a significant impact on our community of Fort Garry.
Now that restrictions have been relaxed for the next few weeks, some local businesses will be able to reopen and sell non-essential goods. While this is ultimately welcomed news for some local businesses, it ignores the reality that many businesses are unable to reopen. The government must immediately extend the Bridge Grant program for small businesses not yet allowed to re-open, and develop new sector-specific supports so that all Manitobans will be able to withstand the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, we have witnessed the inability of the government to provide meaningful, immediate, and long-term financial relief to business owners. This has resulted in the closure of businesses, and it will eventually contribute to higher unemployment rates, lower median incomes, and an increased reliability on precarious work for generations to come.
During the summer, my staff and I created a community needs assessment survey and sent it out to all Fort Garry constituents.
We received approximately 100 responses from folks in Fort Garry. Thank you to those who completed the survey. This valuable input will allow me to better represent the constituency and I want to share some common themes that we heard about in your responses.
First, I want to take a moment to celebrate the diversity within our constituency. Many respondents have lived in Fort Garry for well over a decade, while others have recently moved here. In recent years, demographics have changed rapidly as more young families, newcomers, and students have arrived in the constituency. I am so proud to represent such a diverse community, and I am committed to representing the diverse needs of our constituency in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba.
A common theme in the feedback was the need for increased active transportation infrastructure in Fort Garry. We heard from many folks who want to see more sidewalks, bike lanes, and improvements to road safety to increase safety for pedestrians. During the pandemic, getting outside in the community has been so important for the mental and physical health of Manitobans. I applauded the City of Winnipeg for closing many different streets during the summer to promote active transportation, and I continue to advocate for extended closures of these streets so that Fort Garry residents can continue to enjoy the outdoors safely in our community.
Many Manitobans have done their part throughout the COVID-19 pandemic whether by wearing masks, social distancing, sanitizing and washing hands, or foregoing seeing loved ones for collective health. We have all made immense sacrifices in our lives. I thank the constituents of Fort Garry and folks across Manitoba for doing their part in helping curve the spread of COVID-19.
Many families have experienced immense tragedy as a result of the pandemic. For everyone experiencing difficulty during this challenging time in Fort Garry and across Manitoba — my thoughts are with you. The upcoming holiday season will be more challenging this year for all Manitobans, and especially difficult for some Manitoba families who are face social and economic additional barriers. No matter what your situation is, I want to wish you a healthy and safe holiday season.
Many Manitoba small businesses have been passed down through generations, or individuals have worked a lifetime to bring a business to fruition. The Pallister government has shown that they would rather make things easier for large corporations over made-in-Manitoba businesses. It is shameful for the Pallister government to completely fail small businesses by not developing any sort of meaningful and comprehensive support since the pandemic began.
Now and always, we need to support Manitoba small businesses. There are many great local restaurants, hardware stores, artisans, clothing shops, and so much more we can support here in Fort Garry.
As Thanksgiving 2020 approaches, many Fort Garry residents will be celebrating differently this year.
With Winnipeg recently entering the restricted, or orange, pandemic response level, public health advice states that we should all limit close contacts with people from outside our homes.
Despite these restrictions and challenges, there is still much to be grateful for. Personally, I am grateful for the frontline workers who have protected us from the virus, cared for those who contracted it, and who have provided other essential services for Manitobans. I would also like to express my gratitude to the folks of Fort Garry who have all made sacrifices this year for the greater good. Your actions have made a difference in slowing down the spread of COVID-19.
Thanksgiving is a time for family. I know this may be a challenging time for many families who can’t be together in-person for the holiday. I have no doubt; however, that Manitobans will find a way to make the occasion special, regardless. I have been constantly amazed since this pandemic began with the ingenuity and creativity in my constituency and across the province. Perhaps a virtual thanksgiving dinner is a possibility for some?
This month marks the return to school for many — students, teachers, support staff, and all the other folks who work to help our schools function.
Of course, this year’s return to school is unprecedented for all involved. I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all those who work in education in Manitoba, whether they are teachers, principals, custodians or other critical members of a school faculty. Your efforts are always so important, but this year’s extraordinary circumstances make your contributions even more valuable.
These folks are among the most selfless individuals in our society who often devote extra time and personal resources to ensure our children have the best opportunities possible to learn and excel at their passions, while also developing social skills and building community together.
During my first year as MLA in Fort Garry I have had the pleasure to visit all of the schools in my constituency, either during I Love to Read month, or during social distanced graduations. I saw so many students, teachers, and faculty members working hard to make the most of these difficult circumstances, and I know that will continue this year as well. Schools in Fort Garry have amazed me with their commitment to go above and beyond for their students, and that is something our community can be very proud of.
Just under a year ago, I was honoured to be elected to the Manitoba Legislature by the great people of Fort Garry. Campaigning last summer allowed me to meet many of the folks in this great community, listen to their ideas, and learn about the priorities for how our community can be best served moving forward.
As I come to the end of my first year in office, I have been reflecting on the unprecedented challenges that Manitoban families have faced over this past year. Many have made incredible sacrifices in the face of hardship, particularly financially and emotionally, and many have worked collaboratively with their neighbours to support one another. I want to thank the people of the Fort Garry constituency for your continued support.
As our communities continue to gradually reopen, I am reaching out to Fort Garry residents to hear their concerns and issues via our community needs assessment.
This is an online survey, which can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/GGLR5K2
The impact of the pandemic on seniors has been significant and is changing by the day as governments locally and internationally respond to it.
While we are all adapting on the fly, the impact on seniors in our communities have been compounded by the risks posed by the virus, the restrictions placed on their lives to preserve their health, and the lack of supports available to them during this crisis.
The safety and well-being of our seniors is paramount, and restrictions on visitations were put in place to keep our loved ones safe. However, we have heard of multiple cases of residents at long-term care homes are not receiving sufficient interaction or engagement with their loved ones, sometimes getting a mere 30-minute visit every two weeks.
We have been getting calls on a daily basis in our Fort Garry office from people concerned about the care their loved ones are getting. We have many seniors in our community, and in personal care and retirement homes such as Kiwanis Plaza and Golden Door Geriatric Centre. Thirty minutes twice a month is not enough.