Manitoba

Too many Manitobans relying on welfare, new marching orders for government ministers say

New mandate letters from the province of Manitoba for cabinet ministers include gaming revenue for legions, a smoking ban at First Nation gaming facilities and perhaps the privatization of some provincial parks.

The instructions include new emission targets, gaming revenue for legions, smoking ban at gaming facilities

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister suggested changes to Employment and Income Assistance and prescription dispensing in new instructions to government ministers. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

The Manitoba government will strive to get more people off of welfare and into the workforce, according to mandate letters issued to the provincial government's cabinet minister.

In a new mandate letter written to his families minister, Premier Brian Pallister describes the Employment and Income Assistance program as a crutch for too many people.

The program should transition from a "benefit that encourages dependency on government to one that provides a short-term bridge to meaningful employment," his letter to Families Minister Heather Stefanson reads.

The order is among a smattering of initiatives in Pallister's new marching orders to his cabinet ministers, which were made public on Wednesday. The letters signal what the premier expects from his ministers over the coming year.

In an interview with media, Pallister said it is obvious that people have become dependent on income assistance when the number of "principally healthy" people receiving the benefit has grown significantly in the last decade. He clarified that he wasn't referring to people who are disabled.

"We want to make sure that we have a system that isn't encouraging people to rely on the state when they can become, frankly, more reliant on themselves," he said.

Skills training needed

Pallister said other jurisdictions have dealt with this issue by creating work programs for people on welfare, but he wouldn't commit to the same concept locally. He suggested the province could help with skills training or transportation to job interviews.

It's premature to say if a revamped program would alter its eligibility requirements, Pallister said. 

In orders to other government ministers, the premier said he wants to empower pharmacists to write prescriptions in cases where a visit to a doctor can safely be avoided.

The premier also asked for Royal Canadian Legions to receive financial support through gaming revenue.

A greater share of gaming revenue could be going to legions and veterans' organizations, Premier Brian Pallister wrote in a new mandate letter. (Mike Groll/Associated Press)

In addition, Pallister said we wants to ban smoking at the remaining gaming facilities that allow it, which are run by First Nations. Regional chiefs are receptive to the idea, the premier said, based on conversations he's had.

In one mandate letter, the province asks to establish reporting standards for serious injuries sustained by vulnerable children.

Pallister is asking his justice minister to review the enforcement surrounding on-farm trespassing, which is a growing concern in rural areas.

His government will also offer third-party audits to any municipality willing to identify "ineffective spending and innovative solutions" to help them improve services and lower taxes.

Municipal Relations Minister Rochelle Squires has also been told to stabilize the level of funding that municipalities receive to help them plan for infrastructure projects.

The instructions for Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard ask her to establish new emission targets for 2023 to 2027, set "ambitious" municipal recycling and reuse targets and challenge the imposition of the "higher, rising federal carbon tax."

Some parks could be privatized

Provincial parks will also be considered for some form of privatization.

"Why dismiss it out of hand?" Pallister said. "Let's have a look."

Some municipalities have already expressed interest in taking over services at campgrounds with an eye to improvements, Guillemard said.

"We're looking at opportunities there that lessen the load on ... the parks budget. And I think we can partner with a number of different regions in terms of turning over some of that management."

The province hinted on Wednesday that it may earmark $45 million for flood prevention measures in its upcoming budget. ( John Woods/Canadian Press)

Ministers have been asked to work with other levels of governments to explore the feasibility of using the private-public partnership, or P3, delivery model and Canada Infrastructure Bank to pay for upgrades to the North End Water Pollution Control Centre in Winnipeg.

Pallister hinted that $45 million from the 2020 budget will be funnelled toward flood prevention measures.

A letter to Stefanson promises a $10-million endowment to support child care centres. She's been asked to examine the supply and demand for child care in the province, while addressing staffing shortages.

Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton has been asked to look at private-sector involvement in alcohol sales. Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries was asked last year to explore the same idea.

Pallister said he is open to amending the limits on the number of private wine stores (currently eight) and the range of products that private beer vendors can sell.

"After years of basically a [former NDP] government that was adversarial to the private sector in many ways, I think it's a
productive thing to engage in partnerships with people who are engaged themselves in giving services to others, and, of course, the private sector does that."

On Manitoba Public Insurance, Pallister signalled his continued interest in changing the retail model for auto insurance, which means using both the public and private model.

Wharton is asked to reverse previous hikes to vehicle registration fees and streamline the process of disputing claims. 

The Opposition New Democrats said the mandate letters are a sign of a government focused on spending cuts at the expense of people who rely on services.

"I have a lot of skepticism that [Pallister's] motivation is about anything else than saving money," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

Many of the initiatives build upon promises the Progressive Conservatives made in last year's election, such as orders to cut the sales tax from will preparation and home insurance.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press

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