More private-sector involvement in health care promised in Manitoba throne speech
Crime another top priority, with pledges to increase funding for police, put more cameras in downtown Winnipeg
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson's government will explore using more private partnerships to deliver health care while making multi-year, multibillion-dollar capital investments in hospitals to address the province's health-care crisis, the government's latest speech from the throne promises.
Installing more surveillance cameras in downtown Winnipeg and providing more funding for policing were among the other promises in Stefanson's second throne speech as premier, read Tuesday afternoon at the Manitoba Legislature by new Lt.-Gov. Anita Neville.
The Progressive Conservatives hope the speech will set a renewed course for a government that must turn its fortunes around to win a provincial election set for 2023.
Other provinces have "demonstrated that a blended public-private delivery system works" in health care, and Manitoba has lagged behind, the speech said.
"If you look at other provinces … they have a significant private sector component that they contract out to within their provinces," Stefanson told reporters in an embargoed briefing before the reading of the throne speech.
"We have lagged behind, because there was an ideological approach that was taken for decades here in our province. We're getting beyond that."
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew called that approach "wrong."
"It will create a situation in Manitoba where the care that you receive is determined not by your needs, but by your bank account," he said.
"For the PCs to move in the wrong direction in the midst of a health-care crisis that is at least in part because of the cuts that they've made, it's not only wrong, but it's a very cynical conservative ploy to try to undermine public health care and try to put forward privatization as the only solution."
The head of Doctors Manitoba says she will withhold her opinion of the plan until its details become clear.
"We already have some private facilities in the city and a lot of us — for example, myself as a primary care physician — work in a private clinic within the public system, so there's a lot of blending that's already been happening for years," Candace Bradshaw said.
"I think we need to listen to what exactly that entails, because this is news to us right now."
The fact the province has resorted to sending some people for out-of-province surgeries and diagnostic tests, in order to reduce a massive backlog, is evidence Manitoba doesn't have enough private providers of those services, Stefanson said.
She stressed the government would continue to cover the tab for these procedures.
Teacher oversight body coming
The throne speech also said new measures will be announced to financially stabilize Manitoba Hydro, which has massive debts, while keeping rates affordable.
However, the speech didn't provide any detail, just promising announcements "in the weeks ahead."
The Opposition New Democrats have promised to freeze rates if they're elected, but haven't said how they would ensure the Public Utilities Board, the independent regulator, would support their plan.
Other measures in the throne speech include the development of 1,000 more addictions treatment spaces, a teacher registry and oversight body so the public can track educator misconduct, and an end to a freeze on operating grants for child-care centres that dates back to 2016.
The speech also includes a promise to help post-secondary institutions respond to labour needs, but Stefanson told reporters her government will take a "step back" from its controversial plan to tie their funding to certain performance measures.
"I'm always in favour of performance measures, but I think … as we've come through COVID, there's been some challenges," she said.
The chair of Manitoba's branch of the Canadian Federation of Students says she's happy to hear the province is retreating from that position, at least for now.
"Students will be relieved," Marie Paule Ehoussou said. "This is not what Manitoba needs, this is not what Manitoba education needs."
Stefanson said the government may consider incentives to entice students into certain programs.
Crime a top priority
The government made the issue of crime a top priority in its throne speech, after making a number of financial commitments on the subject in recent weeks.
Both public safety and homelessness were among top issues identified by Winnipeggers in a poll leading up to the recent municipal election.
The government will contribute additional funding to help police deal with street crime, organized crime and gang prosecutions, the speech said.
It will pursue a "renewed and enhanced camera network system" to increase surveillance of downtown Winnipeg and boost funding to efforts that target child exploitation.
The province also promised to tackle the underlying issues of homelessness. A homelessness strategy will be released in spring and include funding for non-profit organizations that help the unhoused, the government pledged.
The proposed support for downtown safety and a homelessness strategy are good news to newly elected Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham.
"There are too many people in the city of Winnipeg right now who are struggling with homelessness. We need to assist and make sure those individuals get housing … [and] the supports they need as well for their life," he said.
Stefanson wouldn't say which health-care facilities will benefit from the new multibillion-dollar funding announcement, but said Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg is "a good example" of a hospital in need of an upgrade.
"We see that parts of it are 100 years old," she said.
The government also promised to help ranchers recover from a stressful period in which they dealt with droughts and floods through a temporary rent reduction on agricultural Crown lands, which is expected to last from 2023-25.
There's also a commitment to reopen the business loan program through the Communities Economic Development Fund to help businesses in northern Manitoba, modernize the waste diversion and recycling processes to divert more materials from landfills and hire more conservation officers.
The PC government also reaffirmed its commitment to continue to reduce education property taxes. The rebate will rise next year from 37.5 per cent to 50 per cent, which will save the average homeowner $774 in 2023.
With files from Rachel Bergen