On Thursday November 5, I spoke at second reading of Bill 2 The Budget Implementation and Tax Statues Amendment Act. This bill has been the subject of much attention because it includes measures which are designed to confirm the government's taking away of money's from children in the care of child and family services, and to prevent any court action against the government for taking this action. As I point out in my comments on Bill 2, in 2015 and early 2016, when Brian Pallister was the leader of the Opposition, his team called the taking away of this money from children in care illegal and immoral. I spoke against Bill 2 because of this clause and I reminded the Premier that he was doubling down on an action (taking the money from children in care), which his team had called "illegal and immoral" while he was the leader. I also spoke against the clauses in this bill which deal with breaking a contract for a facility that was being used to help children in difficulty.
As I spoke, the fast in the Tipi in front of the Legislature, a fast which I participated in, was continuing. This fast was in protest against the Pallister government's action in this bill.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, I would like to speak to this bill. We have major problems with particular elements of this bill. One is the actions of this government in this bill to make it impossible, according to the legislation, for people to sue the government, to collect money which really belonged to children who were in the care of Child and Family Services.
And I want to go back to the fall of 2015 and the early winter, mid-winter, in February of 2016, and I'm going to point out that when the current Premier was leader of the opposition (and we know that then as now, the Premier micro-manages things and is on top of what's being asked by his MLAs in question period). And so there were questions, a series of nine questions, which were raised by the MLA for Portage la Prairie, who is still a part of the government. And in these questions, the MLA for Portage la Prairie points out that taking this money was illegal and immoral and it left children and agencies very vulnerable.
Now, I'll just review this because it's worthwhile that people remember this and recognize what the situation is and was. November 23rd of 2015, the member for Portage la Prairie (Mr. Wishart) asked about the fact that the government was taking away the Children's Special Allowances. He said: "Can the minister tell this House whether children in care benefit directly from the Children's Special Allowances, or does it just disappear into general revenue?" Well, the NDP minister at the time didn't answer the question very well, and we now know that that money went into general revenue. So the MLA for Portage la Prairie then asked: "Why did the NDP government end the practice of directly benefiting the child in care?" which the NDP had done. And the minister of the day, the NDP minister, goes on but doesn't provide an explanation of why the NDP ended this practice of directly funding and benefiting children in care.
Then, in his third question, the MLA for Portage la Prairie says this: Before 2012, CFS agencies often ran deficits due to ever-increasing numbers of children in care. This NDP government decided to take the money held in trust for CFS children when they turned 18 and use this money to pay off the deficit in that agency. There were no agreements in place to allow them to do this; the government took money which was held in trust for children when they aged out of care at age 18. The MLA for Portage goes on to say: Mr. Speaker, this NDP government stole this money from the trust fund of the children in care, and in doing, stole their good start in life. And what we now know, from the reports of many people, is that a lot of these children, when they aged out of care, end up in homeless shelters because they had no other resources and because those resources had been taken away from them by the provincial government of the day.
And then the MLA for Portage la Prairie continued–I think it was December the 1st of that same year, 2015–again under the supervision of the current Premier (Mr. Pallister), and the MLA asked "why is this federal transfer intended for the care and maintenance of nearly 11,000 children not going to the benefit of these children?" Again, there was not a good answer.
So the MLA for Portage asked a second question. Mr. Speaker, this is a minister who's responsible for nearly 11,000 children in care and has risen that to a new high across Canada. I'd be ashamed if I was her. And he asks "why did the NDP government end the practice of directly benefitting the child in care with this federal transfer money?" And it is clear, as we now know from a lot of work that has been done since then, that is exactly what the government of that day did.
The MLA for Portage went on to talk about certain agencies which were doing a great job–Nelson House was one–and he talks about how can an agency that's shown such positive results in reductions of children in care be a target for clawbacks of funding by this government.
He continued with another question: How does this government steal the future of these most vulnerable children and call that fair?
Madam Speaker, the government of the day, 2015 and 2016, was clearly not behaving very well toward children in care. And the MLA for Portage–who's a current member of this government and a close friend, I understand, of the Premier recognized that the NDP government of the day was stealing the future of these most vulnerable children and that was not fair.
And then on February 25th of 2016, we have a situation where what was happening was this line of questioning continued and on this occasion, the MLA for Portage says this: "Mr. Speaker, this House may recall in the fall session that we asked about this government's clawback of the Children's Special Allowance paid by the federal government to the First Nations agencies. Despite having no agreements in place with the First Nations agencies, this government continues to claw back these federal dollars, whose exclusive purpose is the care, maintenance and advancement of children in care. This money goes into general revenue when it's clawed back."
"And he asks, Mr. Speaker, have these illegal, immoral clawbacks impacted these agencies and left them vulnerable?" And obviously this, in fact, was the case.
And the fact is that the Premier and the MLA for Portage la Prairie, back in 2015 and 2016, knew that what was happening was illegal and immoral, and now the Premier and the MLA for Portage la Prairie and all the members of Conservative Party, who are in this Legislature, have brought forward a bill to double down on taking this money away and never giving it back.
It is incredible that the government, when in opposition, could have called this process that was being undertaken by the NDP as illegal and immoral and stealing from children. And now the government is doubling down and it is legalizing theft. It is legalizing the taking of money from children in this bill and that is why we are so strongly opposed to this bill.
We also don't like the part of this bill which deals with breaking a contract that the government has had for a home that was being used to help children. This is a home at 800 Adele and it was being used to help children to do better. It was being used to help children who were being looked after by Marymound. And this government, in the middle of the night, took the children out of there and has not found a use for this home since, when it could have continued to benefit children in this province and children who were marginalized and children who were having difficulties.
So that, Madam Speaker, is a second reason why we Manitoba Liberals are opposed to this bill.
We don't like a government which is engaging in immoral and illegal theft. We don't like a government which is breaking contracts. We will vote against this bill.