Manitoba throne speech promises domestic violence support, tougher drunk driving law
Premier Brian Pallister says his government is 'listening to Manitobans'
The Manitoba government announced plans to support victims of domestic violence, including the creation of a family resolution service, in the speech from the throne on Tuesday.
The Progressive Conservative government used its fourth address to reiterate numerous promises from the past, as well as new pledges that speak to a familiar refrain: Manitoba must become Canada's most improved province.
The Brian Pallister-led government vowed to help victims of abusive relationships navigate the family court process and to launch a one-stop-shop family resolution service in Winnipeg that would be the first of its kind in Canada.
"Too often, the needs of victims have been overlooked as their partners were provided with programming through restorative justice and diversion programs," said the speech read by Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon.
The family resolution service will provide early triage, assessment and followup.
Immediate driving suspension
As well, the province will introduce an immediate roadside prohibition program for "lower-level alcohol-related cases."
Justice Minister Cliff Cullen confirmed the province wants to temporarily suspend driving privileges, a sanction comparable to the new penalty facing drivers caught with a cellphone behind the wheel.
"That's the type of thing we're looking for in this model as well," Cullen said.
He said the province is following the lead of British Columbia, where drivers who blow over 0.08 blood alcohol limit are barred from driving for 90 days and their vehicles immediately impounded.
Cullen said the "administrative penalties" imposed on drivers would be revealed later.
The throne speech also said an update to the Public Service Act would ensure harassment-free workplaces across the public sector.
In health care, the province will strive to reduce wait times for some procedures with the longest delays, including joint replacement, cataracts and diagnostic testing, such as CT and MRI scans.
In a bid to bring transparency to the justice system, Manitoba will release annual reports on repeat offenders, the number of people in custody and the time it takes from charges being laid until a judge makes a decision in a case, the government promised.
As well, the province plans to review "the manner in which policing services are delivered in Manitoba."
'Welfare into the workforce'
A vague declaration to ensure "more employable Manitobans will transition from welfare into the workforce" was also mentioned.
"In the past, assessments of employable Manitobans on assistance were informal, non-standardized, inconsistent and often delayed," the throne speech said.
A new approach, it said, will consist of "more timely and holistic assessments" and "more rapid connections to supports to rejoin the workforce sooner."
Pallister said people on social assistance want gainful employment.
"They want a job, so let's get a job there," Pallister told media afterwards. "Let's not just hand out cheques to everybody, willy-nilly every month and think we're doing the job."
His government also plans to bring forward legislation that would allow self-driving vehicles to be tested on Manitoba roads.
Freeing retail cannabis
The speech revealed the government wants to eventually open up the retail cannabis market.
Pallister said the province took a regional approach initially to ensure stores would be located throughout Manitoba, but they will soon step back.
"We're not going to tell you you can't start up a store because there's already one there, because that's not how the free market works," the premier said.
The province also promised to boost consumer protections against the high-pressure sales tactics of direct sellers, review various funeral, burial and bereavement legislation and develop a strategy to co-ordinate land use in the area around Winnipeg.
Otherwise, the throne speech repeated past promises.
The province said it is weeks away from releasing its economic growth plan.
An implementation plan to update the delivery of mental health and addictions services is being formulated, as is legislation that would require a referendum before a major tax increase is levied on Manitobans.
Economic champion in north
A lead entity will be chosen to oversee economic growth in the province's northern reaches and a review of the province's kindergarten to Grade 12 education system is underway.
On health care, the province will release a clinical and preventive services plan next summer to inform future reforms.
The province remains intent on building 1,200 personal care home beds, it said, but the eight-year target was recently extended to 2025.
The province will also prohibit any further expansion of the gaming industry, which the Pallister government has been reluctant to do in the first 2½ years of its mandate, until a review is completed.
This would include VLTs, though the maintenance of existing facilities will proceed.
"I don't think there are many Manitobans who believe we should hang our revenue dependency on the need for people playing VLTs or gambling," Pallister said. "We need to have a strategy as to where we're going and I think it's important to do that analysis."
We're listening, Pallister says
The premier said the throne speech demonstrated his government's commitment to getting the province back on track.
"I think if you wanted to apply one theme to this throne speech that would be, I think, appropriate, you could say it's evidence of we're listening to Manitobans."
To reporters, Pallister defended a line in the address that said federal and local tax increases "threaten our prosperity."
"When I see things like a growth fee (on new residential developments in Winnipeg) or a federal proposal to jack up taxes on small businesses and medium enterprise or farm families, I don't like it."
Little was said in the speech about the new climate change plan, but one line suggests the fight against Ottawa's carbon levy is far from over.
"The imposition of an unfair, escalating federal carbon tax on Manitobans will be opposed," it said, but Pallister declined to share how he would do that.
The Wilderness Committee's Eric Reder said he is disappointed there was not more direction in the speech on saving our environment.
No update on municipal cash
The throne speech had no mention if the province would boost funding for municipalities, whose provincial grant remains at 2016 levels.
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, who's long campaigned for the funding freeze to thaw, says he's frustrated the throne speech did not signal how much would flow into the city's coffers.
"It'll be something we'll continue to press the province to be more timely with that information," he said.
They've spent an entire term paying for reports they haven't been able to do anything with- Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont
After the address, the NDP and Liberals railed against government inaction on the meth file.
New Democrat Leader Wab Kinew is also irked the province intends to reform the welfare system.
"This government, in every area they've touched to date, have put cutting costs and trying to save money ahead of the needs of real people," Kinew said. "If they're turning their attention to this area now, I suspect that a lot of people will be feeling pain as a result."
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont says it's time for the Progressive Conservatives to stop rambling about the reports they're commissioning and start governing.
"We're still talking about new plans that might be coming out in the next few months or a year from now," he said. "They've spent an entire term paying for reports they haven't been able to do anything with."