Report Stage Amendments to Bill 8 - opposing the Pallister Conservatives attack on democracy and the rights of people to have information from their government in community newspapers.
On Monday November 5, I spoke in the Manitoba Legislature in support of a series of report stage amendments to Bill 8 put forward by Liberal MLA for St. Boniface and Liberal leader Dougald Lamont. Bill 8 removes the long existing requirement that important government notices by published in community newspapers. This includes information on a variety of hearings, including environmental hearings, and public health notices. The Pallister government believes they can get the information to people by putting it on the internet. But the latter may be hard to find, and community newspapers are read by the majority of people and have served us well in the past in notifying people in Manitoba. Dougald Lamont's amendments would delete the clauses which provide that the government can bypass community newspapers.
My comments on amendments which will strike out clauses 8,9,18,19,22 and 24 are below.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): I want to say a few words on the record on these several report stage amendments because, when put together,the lack of these amendments is an assault on democracy. It is unbelievable that this government would stoop so low to take away the right and privilege of citizens in Manitoba to receive information in their local community newspaper.
We know that community newspapers are read by a large proportion of people in their communities. We know that this is the place where people go to get information on what is happening and what the government is doing and where there are items which have a particular impact on individuals in the community.
We know that people will not always be able to find this on the Internet. There are trillions and trillions and trillions of pieces of information on the Internet. It is not even like looking for a needle in a haystack; it is like looking for a bacteria, a single bacteria, in a haystack to try and get information, and we need to make information easier to get.
And the problem is that a lot of people will not be looking. They will not be looking. They will expect, as they have had for many years, that they will have a government which is going to put this information in their community newspaper where they can find it easily and that's where they will look for it and that's where they should be able to find it.
Let us look at some of the amendments that we're talking about. These amendments are badly, badly needed. The government is proposing that where there is a significant change to the ecosystem where they live or near where they live, that the government will no longer have to put that significant change that they are proposing into the local community newspaper.
For all of us who live in today's world where the environment is important, where ecosystems are important - they are the fundamental space in which we live - but this government would take away the advertising of changes to our ecosystems from community newspapers.
This government would take away the advertising in community newspapers of public health information, public health awareness related to–it might be boiled water advisories; it might be conditions related to what people should be doing when there is a flu epidemic; it might, in climate change, be some new disease that they need to create awareness of. It might be a disease that–or a condition that we're already dealing with, but we're not dealing with adequately, like diabetes.
And yet this government would take away from the citizens of Manitoba, from people who are living in Manitoba, from Manitobans, the right to have such critical information in their local community newspaper.
And that is not all. One of these amendments deals with information which deals with The Public Schools Act, and changes in our schools. What can be more important to most people–maybe not the Conservatives–but to most people than information about the schools, where their children are going to school?
You know, think about it. There was–something happened at the school–good or bad–but it may be a situation where it's really important that the parents know about it and that they have some detail, not just –10 seconds on a radio or TV. They need to have the detail where they can see it and read it and understand it and know exactly what's going to happen.
You know, if something untoward–it wasn't long ago there was an unfortunate incident at Kelvin school where a young man died. And, surely, under such conditions, it would be vital that there be the ability of a public health officer to put information in the local newspaper. And people are looking for that. They're used to that. And yet this government is going to take away the democratic right of people to be informed in a way that they can easily find enough detail that they can make sense of it and in enough detail and in a place that they know it's credible.
Too often, we get information–false news, fake news. People need to know when something is credible. And yet the government is going to take away that right of Manitobans to get information in a way that they know is credible and with the right kind of detail that they should have. Shame on this government.
There's going to be changes to The Securities Act. Madam Speaker, I have dealt, on a number of occasions, with people who invested their life savings, and, because they had somebody helping them who was either misinformed or misguided or even fraudulent, they lost a substantial portion of their life savings.
Think about this: people are preparing for their retirement. They have worked very, very hard. They have scraped to put the dollars away. Day by day, they have saved. And they have put that away for their retirement.
And then, all of a sudden, because there's a securities problem, they lost a lot of what they had put away. And the people that I've talked to were not people who are super well off. They were just ordinary Manitobans.
It is vital that there be the ability of our securities regulators to put information out when there are problems under The Securities Act. And it is vital that people should have that information in their local community newspapers.
Surveys, property rights, you know, it's really important that wherever a person lives in Manitoba that this kind of information is available to them in their local community newspaper. It's where they have come to expect it, know that it's reliable, comes with a stamp of the provincial government. It may not be perfect, but at least it is, for that time, the best that can be done.
And yet, this government is now going to do away with that right that the citizens of Manitoba have had for a long, long time. This is wrong. I hope that all MLAs will stand up and support these report stage amendments because they are really important for the democratic rights of ordinary Manitobans.
I also spoke on report stage amendments put forward by Dougald Lamont which would remove clauses 10, 14 and 27. All these clauses are clauses which would take away the rights of Manitobans to be informed through their community newspapers.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, I want to raise a few additional points on these particular report stage amendments. I want to talk briefly about the impact of not having information on The Environment Act.
Many people who are concerned about their community, concerned about themselves, want to have information. When there is public meetings on The Environment Act, they want to have public health information related to what's happening in the environment and the community.
There's some recent information about lead levels–high lead levels–in Weston, in St. Boniface. You know, it's apparent that not only does accurate information need to get to people in the community, but people need to be informed at community meetings. People need to know what to do. They are wondering, they are saying, well, you know, there was results which show that there were very high lead levels in 1988. That information has been hidden by consecutive governments for 30 years.
People need to have a government which is ready to be open, to end this era of cover-up and make sure that the information is there for people, and to make sure people know what do we do? Can we eat the vegetables in our garden? What do we have to do so that what we plant next year is okay if what we planted last year is not? These are pretty fundamental and close-to-home kind of issues, and it's pretty important that there be public information on this.
We in the Manitoba Liberal Party don't buy the minister's statement that she won't proclaim them. The problem with this is she leaves it open to proclaim these parts in the middle of the night, when nobody knows. She could realize that there's a problematic hearing coming up in Weston, where there's a lot of people concerned, and they're going to have to let people know. Well, the day before they have to let people know, they could implement this, and the next day they could decide that there won't be public notices in newspapers on this important meeting because they don't want to draw attention to it.
That's not fair, Madam Speaker. That's not normal democracy. That's not what we should be doing in this Chamber. We need to preserve and make sure that citizens in this province–Manitobans in this province–have access to that public information as they have so often had in the past.
Let us talk about the Water Protection Act. Water is one of the most fundamental components to life. If we're not going to be able to find out about what is happening in our own community under The Water Protection Act, that's a pretty sad and sorry state of affairs, Madam Speaker. That's not acceptable. We need to pass these report stage amendments.
Last weekend, I listened very carefully to the words of Stedman Graham. And he talked about identity leadership. He talked about knowing who you are. We thought–when they campaigned, we thought, traditionally, Tories were accountable, sometimes open. But, obviously, we are now finding out the real identity of people in the Tory government. They are not open; they are not accountable. They are putting in place bills so that they can implement measures in the middle of the night without anybody knowing.
Stedman was talking about who you are. Identity leadership–know who you are and then act on those principles. Maybe these are the principles on which you stand, on what this government stands, that is, not advertising, not letting people know, not making sure that there is a good, solid democracy in this province.
And the government might do this–might do this–because it wants to contain costs, because it thinks it's less expensive. But it is my belief, Madam Speaker, that if that's what they're thinking, they could be very wrong. We've had many situations in the past where decisions were made which led to tremendous liabilities in the future. A government could be sued for not letting people know, for not putting infomration in community newspapers. There could be a big lawsuit, could cost multi-millions of dollars. It makes no sense to think of this [bill] as a cost saving matter.
What we are talking about in this report stage amendment is a very fundamental aspect of democracy as we know it in Manitoba, and I hope all MLAs will support this. I hope the government will reconsider, come back and support this–this amendment, which deals with making sure that Manitobans have access to critical information that they need on the environment and water protection and other matters.
Thank you, Madam Speaker.