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Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont’s strategy to tackle safety is to set-up 24-hour spaces where Manitobans can seek shelter and activities indoors.

Lamont promised Tuesday that his party would spend $5 million annually on a province-wide Safe Place program. The funding will come out of the federal government’s gun and gang crime prevention fund, he said.

The program would include 24-hour "safe spaces" for kids with accessible recreational programming to deter them from getting involved in gangs, places for people experiencing domestic violence and warming facilities for homeless Manitobans. The province would partner with municipalities, churches and friendship centres, among others, to expand existing programs’ hours, Lamont said.

"You have something like the Indian Metis Friendship Centre in Point Douglas.... It's about making sure the programs that currently finish sometimes at 5 p.m. in the afternoon are actually lasting for 24 hours," he told reporters at a press conference at St. Johns Park.

The Liberals would set up a phone line that Manitobans could call for information about a safe space location closest to them, he said.

Lamont also promised Tuesday to invest in a community-centred initiative that provides supportive services for people who want to turn their lives around. He criticized Premier Brian Pallister for delayed action on soaring crime rates and the NDP’s main focus on health care, which he said has taken the party's attention away from crime.

Statistics Canada data shows that in 2018, Winnipeg’s crime-severity index rating — a measure of the volume and severity of crimes reported to police — was second only to Regina. Manitoba’s capital city came in at more than 119 on the chart while the average for the country was 75.

According to the Winnipeg Police Service’s latest annual statistics report, property crime in Winnipeg was up 19 per cent in 2018 over 2017. As well, violent, property and drug crimes increased significantly from five-year averages.

Following the Tuesday press conference, former police chief Devon Clunis endorsed the Liberal candidate for Notre Dame, Donovan Martin, citing Martin's work with at-risk youth.

In response to the Liberal announcements, a PC party spokesperson said the Pallister government has "already invested" in similar initiatives the Liberals promised Tuesday. The party has taken action on key recommendations from the Illicit Drug Task Force — including investments into drop-in centres, supports for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse and 120 new beds at Main Street Project, the spokesperson wrote in a statement.

NDP spokeswoman Emily Coutts said in a statement the party recognizes the importance of making spaces available for at-risk youth, which is why the NDP created the Lighthouses program, which offers recreation, art, music and cultural programming to youth in "high-need" neighbourhoods when school's out.


Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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