Health-focused Manitoba NDP platform promises reinstated emergency departments, new nurse hiring

The NDP would hire as many as 500 new nurses, reinstate two emergency departments converted to urgent care centres by the Progressive Conservative government and negotiate a new climate change deal with Ottawa.

'We are going to balance the books by solving the climate crisis and fixing the health-care system': Kinew

A Manitoba NDP government would reverse Progressive Conservative changes to the health-care-system, create 50,000 jobs and balance the budget, Wab Kinew promised at the unveiling of his party's election platform on Thursday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The Manitoba NDP's platform for the upcoming provincial election focuses on health, jobs and the environment — but its real thrust is reversing some of the decisions made by the Progressive Conservative government during its first term in office.

"This is not a plan for those at the top — this is a plan for all of us," NDP Leader Wab Kinew told a small group of supporters and media at a Portage Avenue café on Thursday, where he officially unveiled his party's platform ahead of the Sept. 10 election.

Health is the main focus of the NDP's promises, including pledges to reverse the closures of two Winnipeg hospital emergency departments, hire as many as 500 new nurses and prevent cuts to CancerCare Manitoba.

If elected, the current official Opposition party would also reinstate coverage for outpatient physiotherapy and sleep apnea treatment, and revive support for a previously cut special drugs program.

There are also promises to boost spending for mental health services and create a new ministry in charge of mental health and addictions.

The NDP calculate the cost of their health promises at $29.5 million in 2021-22 and would increase spending another $43.4 million in the following year.

Kinew says the costs of changing two of the three recently converted urgent care centres back into emergency departments are not exorbitant, and fit within the budget numbers the NDP provided with their platform.

"The reason why we want to reopen these two emergency rooms is we have a shortage of beds that is exacerbating the quality of care and exacerbating the wait times in the province of Manitoba," Kinew said.

50,000 new jobs promised

Kinew says an NDP government would create 50,000 new jobs in Manitoba over its first four years in government through investments to roads, schools and hospitals and through building the infrastructure required to fight climate change. 

That includes funding for flood mitigation and transit, Kinew said.

"The plan we are talking about today is going to put 50,000 Manitobans to work in areas that will help solve the climate crisis, in areas that will make Manitobans healthier," Kinew said.

The plan would include training and education, as well as direct funding for roads and other infrastructure, and is projected to cost $24.8 million in 2020-21, rising to $77.3 million by 2024.

The NDP platform also includes pledges to negotiate with the federal government for a price on pollution and ban oil and gas fracking in Manitoba. There is also a commitment to "make big polluters pay" in Manitoba.

Kinew says the party will unveil an "innovative" alternative to carbon pricing later in the campaign. 

The Progressive Conservative government had initially committed to a flat $25 per tonne carbon tax, which it then pulled after a series of negotiations with the federal government fell apart. 

On the education file, the NDP's platform promises to restore a cap on class size from kindergarten to Grade 3. It would also freeze tuition increases for post-secondary students at the rate of inflation and restore bursaries cut by the previous government.

The NDP also say they would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and provide modest tax relief for small business owners by increasing the threshold at which they have to start paying income tax.

Tax hike for top 1%, $52M in savings

On the revenue side, the NDP are proposing a tax increase for the top one per cent of earners — people earning over $250,000. Top income earners "should feel good about contributing back," he said.

The NDP also project $15.3 million in revenue in their first year in office from the investment they would make in infrastructure. 

The NDP's Kinew says income earners making over $250,000 'should feel good about contributing back' through an extra tax. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Kinew says some people "may be surprised this new NDP team has actually identified some areas where we can save money and make government more efficient." 

The NDP project $52 million in savings by hiring fewer consultants, reducing the number of senior bureaucrats in the health system, and reintegrating the recently created Crown corporation Efficiency Manitoba back into Manitoba Hydro.

When the dust of expenses and revenues settle, the NDP are promising to follow the deficit-reduction schedule set out by the PC government in its last budget. That would see Manitoba's deficit reduced to within $500,000 of the Tories' target of a balanced budget by 2023-24.

Kinew says his party would keep the same deficit target, but with a difference.

"We are going to balance the books by solving the climate crisis and fixing the health-care system," Kinew said.

The Progressive Conservatives aren't buying the NDP's math or their commitment to a balanced budget. 

"I think they've made a lot of promises in the past they haven't kept. So, I would like to see how they plan to do that," said Tuxedo MLA Heather Stefanson.

At a press conference at the PC party headquarters, Stefanson and Kirkfield Park MLA Scott Fielding took shots at the platform, saying the NDP would bring in the highest carbon tax in the country and had a record in government of consistently missing deficit targets.


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