Manitoba throne speech targets students, parents, drivers and beer drinkers
Greg Selinger's NDP government hitting the reset button to get back on track after turmoil
Manitoba is investing in education, child care, the province's home-grown brewing industry, as well as raising the speed limit from Winnipeg to the border with Saskatchewan, the NDP government said in its speech from the throne Thursday.
It's an attempt to change the fortunes of the governing party that has been locked in turmoil in the past weeks.
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The government is promising, among other things, to become the first province in western Canada to offer interest-free loans to post-secondary students, build a new emergency room at the Grace Hospital in Winnipeg, and create a new agency that would help Manitobans reduce their energy bills.
The government is also promising to find savings by reducing government office space by 100,000 square feet, and find savings and efficiencies in the way it buys things.
Greg Selinger said his government can afford to pay for it all, even while working towards a balance budget.
"Most of the announcements in here today are things that are reasonably priced and affordable and part of a long term plan and vision for the province," he said.
Interest-free student loans are something the province can afford, he insisted.
"That will be costed out for the budget in terms of the impacts of that, but it's just another measure to make post secondary opportunities available to young people or anybody for that matter who wants to go back and upgrade themselves with college, university or even a trade," Selinger said.
The premier said the throne speech is something "all members of caucus profoundly believe in," but the divide in the NDP caucus was evident.
The five former cabinet ministers turned rebels against Selinger wore different coloured corsages than the rest of the caucus.
Kevin Chief, who inherited the title of minister of jobs and the economy after Theresa Oswald's resignation, in addition to being minister responsible for the City of Winnipeg, insisted that despite the recent upsets in cabinet, the NDP are now a united front.
"I think we all know some of the challenges we have, some of the difficulties we had, but the reality is, everyone was in there today," he said. "We delivered a great throne speech. You know, we're getting back into session tomorrow. I think a lot of us are excited about that. I'm certainly excited about that."
Speech from throne 'dangerous'
"Dangerous" is the word Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister used to describe Selinger's throne speech.
"I think very little of the speech today, because I believe it was simply an attempt to deflect the tension away from the government's own divisions," he said. "And so it was more of a cut and paste exercise, as I listened to the same promises repeated that have not been acted upon in the past."
Pallister told reporters he will present a motion of non-confidence to test whether Selinger has the support to stay in government.
The NDP government's vow to fund the new spending while balancing the budget doesn't add up for a taxpayers' lobby group.
"We have to remember that just two years ago they predicted that we would already be running a $23 million surplus," said Colin Craig of the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation. "We're actually running a $437 million deficit. So they're way off in terms of getting spending under control."
Among the highlights in the speech from the throne:
- A new post-secondary education strategy to be released in the spring.
- Funding for development of five new hybrid university/college programs for high-demand fields such as engineering, water stewardship and new media.
- Expand the existing apprenticeship model to certify new occupations outside traditional trades such as information technology.
- A new Trades and Technology Network so Manitoba's four colleges can collaborate and be responsive to employers' needs.
- Double the number of online courses available from 500 to 1,000.
Manitoba will become the first province in western Canada to offer interest-free loans, the government said, and:
- Lay groundwork for a new educational training facility in the north Interlake.
- Offer specialized high school programs giving students access to industry experts and state-of-the-art equipment.
- Expand the high school apprenticeship program.
It will unveil a new early childhood development strategy and new legislation to ensure class sizes continue to decrease.
The government is promising a new child care commission to examine ways to build stronger partnerships between child care centres and public schools, as well as how to provide part time and casual child care.
The government said investments in highways will hit a record $700 million this year, including new work to finish major upgrades to Highway 6 from Woodlands to north of Grosse Isle, improvements to Highway 10 near Boissevain, south of Minnedosa, east of Swan River and south of Flin Flon.
- Trans-Cananda Highway speed limits will be raised to 110 km/h from the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border to Winnipeg, instead of stopping at Virden.
- A new road safety committee will be formed.
Flooding and water stewardship:
The government said it will build the new Lake Manitoba Outlet to the higher capacity of 7,500 cfs — a flow equivalent to five Olympic-sized swimming pools every minute.
New legislation will be introduced to protect Lake Winnipeg, preserve wetlands and manage drainage regulations.
It will make upgrades to 27 wastewater treatment facilities.
The NDP government pledged to streamline the process for municipalities to access provincial infrastructure funding.
It will introduce new legislation to protect bilingual services in amalgamated municipalities
And through new legislation, it will establish a special planning area to support expansion, trade and growth at CentrePort, including development of the new CentrePort Canada Rail park.
Sports and beer:
Taking a cue from a number of sporting events such as the Grey Cup, the FIFA Women's World Cup and other events, the government is declaring 2015 the Year of Sport in Manitoba.
It will encourage Manitoba's home-grown brewing industry with a new craft beer strategy.
A new recycling strategy will also aim to reduce waste sent to landfills by 50 per cent by 2020.
- Establish a new cancer hub for Winnipeg to help patients get better co-ordinated care, faster diagnostics and treatment.
- Expand hours at Urgent Cancer Care Clinic.
- Open new QuickCare clinics.
- Build a new emergency room at the Grace Hospital.
- The government plans to create a new agency to help Manitobans reduce their energy bills.
- It's promising to find savings by reducing government office space by 100,000 square feet.
- The NDP is also promising to find savings and effiencies in the way it buys things.