The provincial government must provide people with information on important meetings through their local community newspaper.
The Pallister government has brought forward two bills which would provide the ability of the provincial government to bypass the traditional requirement to publish notices of hearings in community newspapers. One of these, bill 19, the Planning Amendment Act came up for debate April 19 and I spoke to it. My comments, from Hansard, are below.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, I'd like to bring forward a number of points.
Section 168(2.1) says: Despite subsection (2), notice of a hearing is not required to be published in a newspaper or posted in any location if the notice is posted on a publicly accessible website or remains posted on the website throughout the 27-day period before the hearing.
Madam Speaker, we have had a tradition in this province that community newspapers provide advanced notices of important events happening in the community.
For this government to come forward and bring in an amendment which would bypass community newspapers and their important role in communication and the communication of local events which are important to their community is a big mistake.
This is something that the government has said, well, maybe we won't actually proclaim that, but I'm afraid that that's not good enough. There's no place for this kind of approach.
Mr. Speaker, we need to make sure that people who rely on their community newspapers to have information about what's happening are able to rely on the government also to make sure that information that is important to their communities is in those community newspapers.
There are various surveys which have been done in terms of the readership of community newspapers. The readership is very high and notices in a community newspaper are easy to find; whereas, if something is posted on a website, it is quite likely that all too often people won't find out until after the event is over. And that would be a terrible situation for people to be in. And, when we have an important role for community newspapers and an important role in making sure that they have the information and that they post that information, we should not be bypassing the community newspapers.
Our communities, our rural communities, Mr. Speaker, play a very critical and important role in our province. People in rural areas expect to be able to get information that is coming from the government reliably in their community newspapers. It would be a shocking mistake if this government tried to bypass, as it is doing with this legislation, this important role of community newspapers.
So, Mr. Speaker, that is a big, big problem that we have with this legislation, as it has been put forward. We are not satisfied with the minister's comments that maybe he will not proclaim that. The–that section should be removed from this bill and the rightful place is community newspapers as purveyors of important information from government should be maintained. People should have one place that they know where to go and not have to be searching all over websites to try and find the information, and certainly, Mr. Speaker, making sure that that information is available through community newspapers should be a top, top priority of this government. It hasn't been so far; it isn't in the presentation of this legislation and that is of great concern.
I also have some concerns about the way that the government is proceeding with the Municipal Board hearings and funding. The government proposes that the Municipal Board funding–Municipal Board has a 30‑day limit on hearing cases. Well, that's good, but, at the same time, the government is cutting the funding of the Municipal Board by $83,000, expecting the board to work a lot faster with less support. Now, maybe what the government is anticipating is that when they don't put the information in the community newspapers, there won’t be people coming out and that they'll be able to push things through much faster.
That's not the right attitude, Mr. Speaker. What we want is to make sure that people have the information, they're aware of what's happening, they have adequate time to speak up where they have concerns, as people have historically.
People in rural Manitoba and in all of Manitoba are engaged in what's happening. They want to know what's going on in their communities, and they want to be sure that they are informed, and that that information comes to them in a way that is easy to find.
There is no easier way for most people in rural Manitoba to find information than to look in their community newspaper.
It is a sad and sorry day that we have a government which dismisses the importance of community newspapers. And I would say to this government that they should certainly eliminate this bypassing of community newspapers, and if they don't, it will be a very bad mistake.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.