Today in Question Period, I asked the Premier and his Minister of Health why there had been such long delays in putting forward his plans to address poverty, the meth crisis and brain and mental illness. My questions and the Premier's response are on a video at this link. They are also in the text below - from Hansard.
Poverty and Homelessness - Government Priority
Poverty and Homelessness - Government Priority
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, the large rally at noon today emphasized how meth addiction, brain and mental illness, homelessness, child and family services and poverty are all closely related.
We heard of a pregnant woman who committed suicide because she was scared that CFS would take her baby away. We heard from a 14-year-old who'd already lost three friends aged 12 and 13 to meth.
The Premier, in the 2016 election campaign, said addressing poverty was his highest priority.
Will the Premier tell those who are in the gallery today why it is that, once elected, poverty has become his lowest priority, so low that in two full years and three throne speeches he has not yet presented a plan to address poverty and homelessness in our province?
Hon. Brian Pallister (Premier): First of all, Madam Speaker, I would encourage the member to stand up against the federal government's plans to take $2.2 billion away from Manitoba health transfers and support. The programs he claims he supports are funded by, in part, a partnership with the federal government that is now eroding. As a consequence of the federal government withdrawing significant support from health care, I would invite him to not be Ottawa west but rather just to join with us and stand up for Manitobans.
As far as the circumstances around those who come from modest circumstances or live in them, Madam Speaker, we have in the past two years committed to making the largest tax reductions in the history of Manitoba, ever. We will fully reduce taxes on low-income Manitobans by 20 per cent more in our first term than the NDP did in four terms.
Madam Speaker, I recognize the member may not enjoy that. While the federal government is raising taxes, we are lowering them. But that is the fact. [It needs to be said, that raising the personal income tax exemption is an inefficient way of helping those on low incomes. For those whose income is below $9000 per year, there is no benefit in this at all. For those with low incomes which are above $9000 the amount of tax savings is less than the savings for individuals with higher incomes. In both cases, individuals with low incomes still have to pay higher hydro rates and higher taxes on gas for their car, and in many cases higher rents with the changes which have been brought in by the Pallister govenrment].
Madam Speaker: The honourable member for River Heights, on a supplementary question.
Methamphetamine Addiction - Brain and Mental Health Strategy
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, at the noon rally, we heard of many parents living under a dark cloud, not knowing if their child who is taking meth will be alive tomorrow morning.
In opposition and in government, the Minister of Health has said repeatedly that addictions and brain and mental illness need to be addressed together.
Meth use in Manitoba has been called a crisis, an epidemic, a tidal wave, and now an apocalypse.
Why is it that the Minister of Health has not yet, in two full years and three full throne speeches, put forward comprehensive changes, including a meth detoxification centre, to address addictions and brain and mental illness together?
Hon. Kelvin Goertzen (Minister of Health, Seniors and Active Living): Madam Speaker, when it comes to drug use, there's no question that it has a particular impact on the development of a person's brain, and it certainly has an impact on their life.
We know that's even true when it comes to marijuana, Madam Speaker. Those who are 25 and under who use marijuana suffer significantly from a diminishment of brain development. There is evidence that says those who are under 25 are particularly impacted by that.
It's one of the reasons why we asked the federal Liberal government to provide more time before it went on legalizing this drug, before it went on legalizing marijuana. We asked for additional time so we could look at that impact and try to mitigate it. That member didn't say anything about that.
Madam Speaker: The honourable member for River Heights, on a final supplementary.
Mr. Gerrard: Madam Speaker, we had many people in front of the Legislature today calling out this government for its lack of effective action on the meth crisis, on brain and mental illness, on homelessness and poverty, CFS and on the trauma that many are being exposed to.
Those who live with these issues in Manitoba and those who are doing their best to help people with these issues know that after two years and three Throne Speeches of this government, we still lack meaningful and effective action to address these critical issues. Many are looking for help and not able to find it.
Why has this government, in two years, been irresponsible in neglecting those who are in difficulty and who are our most vulnerable?
Mr. Goertzen: Madam Speaker, again, while there's been additional resources placed in treatment and there's been additional resources placed in front-line services for those who need that help, there are other things than simply the member going in front of a crowd.
He had an opportunity, maybe not in front of a crowd, but to stand with us when we asked the federal Liberal government to hold on legalizing marijuana, Madam Speaker. We knew there'd be a significant impact. We knew there'd be a significant impact for those young people who might otherwise think that this is behaviour that didn't have any harm.
We knew that there needed to be more information, there needed to be more time. When we asked that member to join with us, as we did all members of this House, to join with us in protecting children, yes, there wasn't a crowd there, and he said nothing, Madam Speaker.
[It must be added that people listening in the gallery were upset with the arrogance, the lack of the ability of Mr Pallister or Mr. Goertzen to answer the question, and the lack of action on these important issues by the Pallister government].