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My response to the government's Throne Speech

Tuesday November 27 and 28, I delivered my response to the govenrment's Throne Speech.  My remarks, below are from Hansard. 
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Madam Speaker, I want to begin by thanking the residents of River Heights for their continuing support and to talk a little bit about some of the things that I've been doing in River Heights that relate to the Throne Speech.
     Specifically, I've held three forums this fall. The first of these was a forum on learning disabilities. And this forum focused on a major gap which currently exists in the support of children and adults with learning disabilities. Learning disabilities are common; about 8 per cent of our population have learning disabilities. And learning disabilities, when not identified and helped, can result in delays in learning, delays in reading, problems in school.
      These difficulties, when not addressed adequately, can result in students becoming frustrated, dropping out of school and not graduating from grade 12, having trouble as adolescents with juvenile delinquency, having trouble getting a job and sometimes with difficulties which lead to interaction with the criminal justice system. Indeed, individuals with learning disabilities are over-represented in the criminal justice system.
      And for many reasons, then, addressing learning disabilities should be a focus of our efforts in order to help children and adults with these conditions and to improve our society for everyone. I think everyone would agree that we want to reduce criminal activity, that we want to increase safety. Well, one of the things that we can do is to address learning disabilities.
      I think all would agree that we want to prevent mental illness and that we want to prevent addictions. And one of the things that we can do constructively is to address individuals with learning disabilities and help them, because it is the frustration and the lack of help which sometimes leads these individuals to have problems with mental illness, to have problems with addictions, to have problems with the criminal justice system.
      The Throne Speech contains one item, improved therapy for preschool children, which might help some children with learning disabilities, but it's not nearly enough.
      Most children with learning disabilities are not identified until they reach school, and assessments for such children are often delayed. And help for such children is often not provided adequately. We need to be doing much better, Madam Speaker.
      Clearly, in this and other areas there is lots to be done. There are challenges, but there are opportunities. Sadly, this government has been much about talk and little about action., 
( Continuing on November 28): Madam Speaker, I was talking about our community forums, and the second and third community forums I held in River Heights dealt with preventative care. This is an area which, sadly, has lacked attention under the current government.
      It is an area where the government continues to lump prevention with acute services, a scenario where acute care always wins. We need a separate provincial preventative services plan which involves other departments to address the underlying causes of ill health like poverty and homelessness, as well as looking at prevention of specific diseases. We are still waiting for the government's plans to address poverty and homelessness. These are clearly not priority areas for this talk and all–and no action government. Furthermore, into its third winter, this government still has no plans, even for warming shelters.
      The preventative services plan also needs approaches for specific diseases. We now have about 120,000 Manitobans with diabetes and many more with pre-diabetes, one of the highest rates in Canada, but a plan to prevent diabetes is still missing in action. Support for insulin pumps for adults with type I diabetes to prevent complications is also needed.
      Manitoba and Saskatchewan have far higher rates of HIV than other provinces as a result of poor planning and action by the former NDP government and the present Conservative one, yet a plan to prevent HIV and AIDS is still missing.
      With lung disease there is great potential to save dollars by preventing COPD and decreasing the need for hospitalization. Here, again, the government is missing in action. Preventing dental caries–government missing in action.
      The Throne Speech talks about the government's much-delayed approach to addictions and brain and mental health. While in opposition, the government took no time to develop plans to be implemented in their first 100 days of government. Instead, we have to wait more than 800 days before even having a plan at all in so many areas.
      There's also underspending on mental health and a lack of attention to the needs of additional psychological services and a lack of attention to the needs to employ peer-support workers.
      The meth epidemic is having a widespread impact. In many areas, we're seeing the increased number of newborn babies showing signs of drug intoxication and drug withdrawal. We're seeing dramatic increases in costs related to the increase in syphilis in Manitoba, much of which is now being attributed to the unchecked meth epidemic.    
      We need a comprehensive approach involving more detox facilities, more treatment services, and stabilization services to ensure continued support for meth addicts after treatment so that they don't immediately return to using meth.
      There's also little focus on prevention of the meth epidemic, a lack of education in schools, a need for mental health and addictions education to be integrated with the K-to-12 curriculum, as the   Manitoba Teachers' Society's has pushed for. And, of course, this government has opposed safe consumption sites.
      Brain health: Bringing together mental health, addictions, neuroscience, neurodevelop­mental disorders, is being forgotten by this government. 
      This year, we worked with families of individuals at the Lions Prairie Manor to address the problems that have come to the forefront there. I keep in touch with the families. They tell me that not much has changed.  Recently, a resident had to call for help in being toileted, and he called for an hour before there was any response. Another resident got very cold feet because his reclining chair was left unplugged for hours, so he couldn't raise his feet.  It seems the Conservatives are good at cutting and talking and privatizing, but not very good at getting positive done–things done for Manitobans. It's too bad, because the Lions Prairie Manor is in the Premier's (Mr. Pallister) former home community, and it should have had more and better attention than this.  Too many forced mandatory overtimes at the Lions Prairie Manor have meant some staff are leaving. Overall issues with the management of personal-care homes, including ensuring that there are sufficient beds with the development of new bed spaces, is not happening.
      The Conservative government appears determined to make the mistake of privatizing the Lifeflight Air Ambulance service without considering the quality of emergency services that people have had and should continue to have. The government should do better.
      We have numerous contaminated sites: Weston,  St. Boniface–new results almost every day showing continued contamination. It's unbelievable the neglect shown by previous governments dating back to 1988, neglect with respect to the prevention of health issues in citizens in the area.  Lead's been associated with neurological consequences as well as cancer. Is–is important that we are doing better in this–addressing contaminated sites more quickly and notifying residents more quickly.
      We are seeing mandatory overtime for nurses not only in the Lions prairie manor, but causing stress and putting patients at risk at St. Boniface. Morale is low in newborn nurseries at St. B and the Health Sciences Centre. There's poor management of human resources.   
      There's also a lack of attention to nurse practitioners, who could be very helpful in addressing many of the issues we're concerned about.
      In regard to emergency rooms, what we're seeing is identical to what happened under the NDP. There was a short-term decrease in emergency room wait times and then a levelling off and then an increase in wait times. And what we're seeing now is that increase in wait times already with the government only having been in office for two and a half years.
      At CancerCare Manitoba, the government should build on the successes of CancerCare and put in place other effective specialty networks rather than seeking to cut and cut and cut with CancerCare as it's doing elsewhere.
      It's a mistake to cut programs which work. The government has cut sleep apnea supports, outpatient physiotherapy, occupational therapy services, obstetric care in Flin Flon, special drug supports for those with cystic fibrosis and diabetes, lactation services, IV services, mature women's health centre/  Time and time again, instead of looking at the quality of what's there, the government has cut. The government, in its Throne Speech, didn't even mention Pharmacare and supporting a national program.
      In education, we have a review coming, but it's been delayed–in fact, delayed so long that it must have one of the lowest priorities of all areas. Instead of working with school trustees, however, to improve learning, the government is considering options to disrupt and cut the ability of school divisions to provide good education services. 
When it came to agreeing to have a disability education standard, the government has not yet said yes. It is behind.
      We have had poor quality in the budget consultation questions related to Education. The questions are all about cutting spending and nothing about the quality of education services. So far there's no vision for the future of education in Manitoba by this government at a time of considerable technological change. At a time when students need to be inspired, students are being left behind.
      We have areas of need. For example, we heard this morning of requirements for standards for education and training for individuals looking after children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Instead of advancing positively, this government has cut services to those in the francophone community. It has cut the health care coverage for international students. It has cut the tuition income tax rebate for students. Education under this government is suffering rather than prospering.
      In sustainable development, it is of great concern that there was no mention of Lake Winnipeg in the Throne Speech, and the need to address the removal of phosphorus from Winnipeg's sewage.  And we badly need provincial-municipal co-operation to reduce the dumping of raw sewage from Winnipeg into the Red and Assiniboine rivers.
      Commercial fishers have indeed raised concerns about the algae and sewage, which have been inundating the waters of Lake Winnipeg near Grindstone. The fishers talk of the lake being as thick as soup, or part of the lake being like a sewage lagoon. Fishers describe not even being able to get their nets up, there's so much algae in them. Further, fishers talk of the fact that when their nets fill up with algae, there are no fish caught and they lose money. And yet this government has not been acting. And, rather than acting, have engaged in the politics of delay and stall, for which the government is known so well.
      They have delayed the deadline for reducing phosphorus in the city's North End sewage treatment plant from 2014 to 2019. They have delayed for 27 years, the timeline for fixing the problem of ending the dumping of Winnipeg's raw sewage into the Assiniboine and Red rivers through the combined sewers.  The Pallister government has done everything it can to delay rather than to act, and the result is a major threat to Lake Winnipeg.. 
      There are concerns about the walleye and the sauger populations.  The Pallister government is delaying eco-certifying the fishery. It is delaying making sure there's good management of the fishery.
      We know that tourism is important. Indeed, one of the major reasons for the increase in tourism–$100  million in 2017–was the increase in anglers visiting Lake Winnipeg. If the government is not looking after the walleye and the sauger, we're not going to have the same tourism that we have been having. And we won't see the benefits, however much the government supports tourism; if there are no fish there, it won't bring people.
      The government has talked and talked in the election and for two and a half years after the election about putting a price on pollution. But after all that talk, there's been no action. In fact,   the   Conservative government voted against a made‑in-Manitoba climate change plan­–indeed, tearing up two thirds of their own bill 16.
      In contrast, Liberals voted for a made‑in‑Manitoba climate change plan. The government has flip-flopped on a tax on pollution, even when others are arguing that a more free‑market approach would use the tax on pollution as part of this and Nobel economists are saying this is the way that we need to go.
      In agriculture, the climate change plan has been missing in action. Indeed, the government appears afraid to even mention the words nitrous oxide, one of the important greenhouse gases accounting for 15 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions in Manitoba.
      There's also a lack of a plan to quantify adequately the carbon stored. Farmers could be getting major benefits if the government acted. But we need the science, we need the commitment, to be able to monitor the production of nitrous oxide and the storage of carbon so that we can claim the credits,  and so we can claim that we have actually made a difference to the climate here in Manitoba. And, without action in this, we are left, you know, swinging in the wind rather than being in a place where we can effectively act on climate change.
      There are no mentions, indeed, of efforts to work with farmers to reduce emissions from agriculture and to increase storage of greenhouse gas and how this will be monitored.
      When it comes to Child and Family Services, this government is continuing to claw back the Children's Special Allowances. Day after day, we hear continuing issues around B & L Homes and other areas.
      When it comes to infrastructure, the Heavy Construction Association has cried out, as have many municipal leaders, that this government is underinvesting in bridges and roads. It has frozen the   transit budget, has removed the provincial commitment to cost sharing of transit funding, indeed, is going backwards rather than forwards.
      When it comes to disabilities, this government is behind in moving forward on the disability standards, and when it comes to housing, the government is not adequately including building codes that addressing that area of housing.
      We are not seeing a realistic economic plan for  the North, for First Nations, for Inuit, for Metis people. There have been cuts to the northern transportation program. 
     In child care, we still have very long wait-lists and waiting times, and there's not been a substantive effort in this area to really address it in a way that would be effective.
      There's been poor management of the Provincial Nominee Program. Yesterday I heard that it was being managed so that it was more difficult for manufacturing businesses in places like Winkler to attract the staff that they need.
      We are not moving forward sufficiently with reconciliation. Indigenous issues–First Nation, Metis, Inuit–are on the backbench rather than on the front bench in terms of being able to work effectively in these areas.
      We're seeing cuts to restorative justice program. We're seeing inadequate attention to the Conflict of Interest Commissioner's recommendations. We're seeing poor management of Manitoba Hydro. We're seeing rising costs in seniors care programs. We're seeing many other broken promises, for example, the promise to increase the personal income tax exemption. We are not seeing the effort we need to make sure that every First Nation community in the boreal forest has an effective fire prevention plan.
      And we are seeing that communities in the North, like Flin Flon and Thompson, are threatened in terms of their future. People in Flin Flon are feeling in very difficult straits, in very difficult times. They are lacking their obstetric services now. They are not seeing what the future is, because this government is standing on the sidelines and not being respectful, at least of people who are hurting. There needs to be not only these plans, but plans for many other communities in the North, and those plans could make a difference.
      So, in summary, Mr. Speaker, we've seen a government which is fond of talking, but does little in terms of real action except when it comes to cuts and reviews.   Cuts and reviews are the hallmark of this government. It's too bad, because Manitobans deserve much better.
      Thank you, Madam–Mr. Speaker. Merci. Miigwech.


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