St. Johns constituency report
Nahanni Fontaine is the NDP MLA for St. Johns.
Recent articles of Nahanni Fontaine
The U.S. Supreme Court recently turned the clock back 50 years by overturning Roe v. Wade, a 1973 legal ruling which said that the U.S. Constitution essentially guaranteed citizens’ rights to choose to have abortions.
This is exactly what myself and other pro-choice advocates had been warning people about for years. Critics wrote us off, saying it would never happen. Others have said there is no threat to abortion rights here in Manitoba. The reversal of Roe v. Wade makes it clear the threat to our bodies is ever-present.
This threat does exist in Manitoba as well, as many Progressive Conservative MLAs are anti-choice. The former interim premier and current cabinet minister Kelvin Goertzen (MLA for Steinbach) openly spoke at an anti-abortion rally while he was the acting health minister in 2018. James Teitsma (Radisson) was a director with the Association for Reformed Political Action, a group which actively fights against abortion and same-sex marriage. In 2019, Teitsma spoke at the Winnipeg March for Life, an anti-choice event. Ralph Eichler (Lakeside) spoke against abortions funded by taxpayers and has stated he is anti-choice.
In total, 27 out of 36 Conservative MLAs – or 75 per cent – hold anti-choice views, according to the anti-choice Campaign Life Coalition. This means that 75 per cent of the governing PC caucus does not want women, girls and gender-diverse folks to have the right to make decisions about their own reproductive health. In fact, the PCs don’t seem to agree reproductive health is even health care, which was made clear when they switched ministerial responsibility for reproductive health from the department of health to status of women.
The Manitoba Legislature returned last month for the first time since last year, and the provincial NDP came ready to engage with the Progressive Conservative government to pass positive legislation to help Manitobans.
For example, I was proud to support my colleague Uzoma Asagwara as they introduced legislation to make menstrual products free for students in public schools, and Amanda Lathlin as she introduced an amendment to allow Manitobans to take up to three days’ paid leave if they or their partners suffer miscarriages. My friend Bernadette Smith also introduced important legislation to require the government to publicly announce the number of overdose deaths in Manitoba each month, along with the types of drugs that contributed to these deaths.
Sadly, instead of engaging with the NDP to pass these pieces of legislation and address other issues facing Manitobans, the PCs demonstrated time and time again that they were unconcerned by the pain and suffering that so many of us have faced and continue to face during this pandemic. The clearest example of this came a couple weeks ago, when our leader, Wab Kinew, asked Premier Heather Stefanson a question about Krystal Mousseau, an Indigenous mother who died while being airlifted out of our province during the third wave. Instead of showing respect to Mousseau by responding to the question, Stefanson chose instead to talk about her “proud mother moment” watching her son play hockey the night before.
As shameful as her response was, it is also revealing because it showed that this PC government has no real answers to what has gone wrong during the pandemic so far or how to move forward.
Last month, we held an abbreviated session in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. This session, however, was a historic sitting as the first woman premier in Manitoba’s history — Heather Stefanson — was sworn in to office.
Once again, congratulations to the new premier.
Sadly, we quickly saw just how similar Premier Stefanson is to the former premier, her mentor Brian Pallister. Throughout the session, I watched the new premier dodge question after question about what her government plans to do to mitigate the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. I watched as Premier Stefanson steadfastly refused to implement a vaccine mandate for personal care home staff, thus putting our seniors and elders at risk.
But the clearest example of how the Stefanson government is little more than a repeat of Pallister’s came on the first day of the session in her government’s first speech from the throne. Unfortunately,the throne speech failed to address many of the urgent and critical issues faced by Manitoba families, such as the rising cost of living and health-care cuts, including cuts made while Premier Stefanson was health minister.
As we near the two-year anniversary of the beginning of the arrival of COVID-19, we need to begin to look back at how the provincial government responded to the pandemic.
Which public health orders worked? Which ones didn’t? Were Manitoban personal care homes adequately regulated? How did our healthcare system get to the point where we had to send patients out of province?
To answer these questions, we need a serious investigation. That’s why the Manitoba NDP and I are calling for an independent public inquiry into the Progressive Conservative government’s pandemic response. We need to give independent experts, including doctors, nurses, long-term care researchers and epidemiologists full access to all the information they need to make a report about what went wrong so that we can better prepare for future crises.
In particular, the NDP is calling for the public inquiry to shed light on the social determinants of health. We know that BIPOC communities were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, in part because they were more likely to live in multi-generational or crowded housing. But we need to get even more specific answers about why these communities were disproportionately affected, and what the government can do to better tailor is policies to the needs of racialized communities.
A few weeks ago in the legislature, I re-introduced a bill to create a buffer zone around abortion clinics so that patients would not face harassment from anti-choice protesters.
But when my bill came to a vote, I looked across the aisle at empty chairs. A number of Progressive Conservative MLAs, including then-leadership candidate and now-premier Heather Stefanson, couldn’t even be bothered to show up.
The absence of these PC MLAs was confusing because afterwards a number of them made statements supporting the aims of my bill, even though their party voted against it. The situation highlighted a growing reality about this PC government — they won’t listen Manitobans or work to improve their quality of life.
During our two-week session, we voted against Brian Pallister’s budget, which the PC government still supported, including Heather Stefanson, because it cut funding for health care and other government services.
The fight for reproductive rights is never over. We recently saw lawmakers in Texas attempt to ban abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, for women and girls after just six weeks from conception — before many women even know they are pregnant. In Manitoba, women and gender-diverse persons seeking reproductive healthcare are often subject to verbal abuse outside abortion clinics by non-peaceful protesters.
I’ve always championed reproductive rights as the MLA for St. Johns. In 2018, I first introduced a bill to create a safety perimeter around any clinics, hospitals, or health-care facilities offering abortion services so that protesters would not be allowed within 150 metres of these clinics.This would protect both patients and health-care providers against harassment, intimidation, and persuasion on abortion. But the Progressive Conservative government refused to support my bill. This year, I brought forward my bill again and strengthened it by adding safety parameters around schools to keep kids safe. I hope that the government chooses to support my bill this time to protect women and gender diverse-persons.
Last weekend, inspired in part by my outrage at the new Texan abortion laws, I continued my advocacy for women and gender-diverse persons by organizing a rally for reproductive rights at the Manitoba Legislature. I wanted to show my solidarity with all those who are unable to access the health care that they need, and remind our own government that we will never tolerate similar anti-abortion legislation here. The event featured a strong turnout of Manitobans from all over the province, and left me reinvigorated to continue my advocacy on behalf of your reproductive rights. Thank you to all who attended.
In addition to organizing this rally, the Manitoba NDP and I have been hard at work fighting against the government’s harmful agenda. Earlier this year, we used our power as official Opposition to delay five government bills that Manitobans told us would be especially harmful to them and their families — and, thanks to efforts from all Manitobans, the government announced that it would no longer move forward with these bills, at least for now.
As summer is in full swing, I hope everyone in St. Johns is making the most of the warm weather and less stringent health orders by visiting safely with family and friends. While there’s still lots of summer left to enjoy, there are a few issues coming up this fall that all Manitobans should be aware of.
The NDP caucus used its ability as official Opposition to delay five government bills until the fall, so that Manitobans could have their say.
One of these was Bill 57 — The Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act, which gives the Progressive Conservatives power to levy significant fines against Manitobans who choose to peacefully protest in areas deemed “critical infrastructure.” The bill defines these spaces vaguely and includes grocery stores, personal-care homes, banks, and even the legislature.
This is a blatant attack on democracy and an attempt to suppress dissent from Indigenous peoples, environmental groups, unions, and all concerned citizens. Manitobans have the right to protest peacefully without fear of punishment.
We had a Manitoba Hydro committee meeting at the legislature at the end of June, at which we got the opportunity to ask the chief executive officer of Manitoba Hydro questions.
We learned then that Manitoba Hydro expected to increase rates by 3.5 per cent in October of this year.
A couple of weeks later, the government has changed its mind and not for the better.
Manitobans learned on July 8 that they will actually be facing 2.5 per cent rate increases for the next three years — with no independent oversight.
As the end of June draws near, I congratulate all graduates in St. Johns and across Manitoba on your hard-earned achievements!
As you have pursued your education throughout this pandemic, you have experienced challenges not faced in many generations. You’ve dealt with rapidly changing circumstances and have pivoted quickly from in-person to remote learning and back again, and sometimes a hybrid of the two.
You’ve had to miss school sports and parties, or fieldwork and networking opportunities to help start your new careers. And now, at a time when you should be out celebrating your accomplishments with your friends and family, you’ve been asked to sacrifice this rite of passage to stay home to protect the health of our province.
While in-person convocations or graduation powwows may not be able to happen this year, I have been so impressed by the ingenuity of our graduates, along with their schools and loved ones, to come up with creative ways to celebrate.
This pandemic has been challenging for all of us. Low-income families in St. Johns have been hit hard, working front-line jobs and putting themselves at risk to afford rent and groceries.
Now the PCs want to leave them even further behind.
The PCs recently passed Bill 71, The Education Property Tax Reduction Act. This legislation puts big cheques into the pockets of the most well-off Manitobans while slashing benefits for renters. It will decrease the $700 tax credit that all renters in Manitoba currently receive by 25 per cent this year, an immediate loss of $175, while eventually phasing the tax credit out altogether. What’s more, these renters’ landlords will receive cheques in the mail for 10 per cent of their education property taxes on every property they own this year — potentially thousands of dollars.
This means that big, out-of-province corporations will be getting cheques for tens of thousands, and the wealthiest Manitobans who own the most property will reap the biggest benefits. Meanwhile, working people who rent here in St. Johns and rely on this tax credit to cover expenses will see benefits clawed back.
I commemorated International Women’s Day, which was celebrated on March 8, by attending a vigil for 29-year-old Jana Williams along with my colleague Uzoma Asagwara, MLA for Union Station.
Jana was pregnant with her third child when she was murdered and her remains were left near the Red River. This heartbreaking loss is all too familiar for Indigenous families — in St. Johns and across the province - as our women, girls, and two-spirit people continue to be under attack.
International Women’s Day isn’t just about niceties or posting to social media, it’s a day to commit to action and actually do something to tackle the myriad of issues women face.
Women’s rights is not just a St. Johns issue. Around the world, women have been bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and I’ve spoken to many St. Johns women who have been struggling this year in a variety of ways.
In 2016, Manitoba Minister of Families Heather Stefanson said the Pallister government would never reduce patient access to cancer treatment in Manitoba.
Four years later, in the midst of a pandemic, Brian Pallister is cutting CancerCare at Seven Oaks Hospital, forcing vulnerable, immunocompromised patients to travel further for the care they need. I have heard from many St. Johns constituents that Pallister’s cut will impact their treatment.
Pallister’s latest round of cuts to CancerCare effectively reduces cancer care centres in Manitoba by one-third.
Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson has said cutting CancerCare services will not only impact patients in North Winnipeg but also patients who come to Winnipeg from rural areas. Jackson acknowledges patient stress is heightened in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and believes Pallister is rushing through this decision.
In most catastrophic events, women are disproportionately impacted.
COVID-19 is no different. Women are at the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis in a myriad of different ways and are exponentially physically, socially and economically impacted.
The Public Health Agency of Canada states that more women within the general population have been diagnosed with, and died from, COVID-19.
More than half of all female workers — 56 per cent — work in the caring, clerical, catering, cashiering and cleaning sectors. Women represent over 90 per cent of nurses; 75 per cent of respiratory therapists; and 80 per cent of citizens working in medical labs. More than two-thirds of employees cleaning and disinfecting our hospitals, schools and buildings are women. Put together, women face increased opportunities for possible COVID-19 exposure.