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Comments on the provincial budget

 On Thursday April 8 I spoke in the Manitoba Legislature on the provincial budget and introduced our Liberal subamendment.  My comments (from Hansard) are below. 

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Mr. Deputy Speaker, I want to put a few words on the record about the budget, which was delivered yesterday.

      One of the first things that most people in Manitoba are concerned with is the imminent presence of a third wave of this COVID pandemic. We have seen–and are seeing–what's happened in Ontario and in BC; we would have expected that the government would have presented a clear plan in the budget for dealing with the third wave.  That clear plan could have alleviated people's fears and anxieties about what may be coming.

      Instead, we have vaccination snafu after snafu. I raised concerns from just two of many individuals who've come forward earlier today in question period:  the failure to recognize and help somebody appropriately with Alzheimer's, the failure to recognize that somebody who was 80 needed some­thing better than just being forced to stand in line for three hours.

      This government, sadly, has been much more disorganized than anyone ever expected it would be, but it's a sad testament to the lack of effective planning and effective execution, and we should have had a detailed plan for the third wave laid out.

      What we got was a budget with a lot of money for COVID‑19, but no clear plan on how to spend and how to deliver–and how to make sure that we get beyond the current snafus into a system which is actually helping people effectively get vaccines quickly and helping people who are caught up in lockdowns to be able to survive financially and to have their businesses survive.

      Seniors are clearly an area where there needs to be a lot of planning, and yet we had no announcement of a seniors advocate office, which is so badly needed to make sure that seniors have somewhere that they can go for help.

      We need–as we all know–to have personal-care homes which have sufficient, well-trained staff to look after people well, with empathy and compassion and caring.

      We know that hearing is one of the most critical things for people as they age so that they can stay in touch with the world and talk with people, and yet the government failed to deliver on a cochlear implant processor replacement program, in spite of more than 700 people having signed petitions and in spite of me and the MLA for Tyndall Park presenting many, many petitions in this Legislature asking, calling on the government to fund and make sure that the hearing of people as they get old can be helped if they have cochlear implants.

      There was no plan presented for what a third wave lockdown would look like. We should have some vision and we should have some expectation so that people can plan–people can know why it is so important, right now, to be paying very close attention and protecting themselves and their loved ones from getting a COVID-19 infection.

Sad to see the lack of sufficient support in the mental health and addictions area. There was, yes, a small increase in budget; yes, the announcement of a new ministry, but there's nowhere near the funding and the support for detox, provisions for those with addictions and for ensuring that there's a seamless process for people to get through the various steps and back on their feet. When that doesn't happen, we have so many people who fall through the cracks, so many lives which could have been helped, which are not.

In the COVID pandemic we have had a drastic increase in the number of people with eating disorders. This has happened in other jurisdictions. But what has the government done? Instead of recognizing and providing the resources, the government has just let the waiting list get longer and longer and longer. It's as if the government doesn't realize that eating disorders are one of the most deadly. They have one of the highest mortality rates of any mental illness. It is terrible to have a government which doesn't pay attention to eating disorders and provide the support and the funding to make sure that people get the help quickly when they need it, instead of having to wait and wait and wait. I think the wait-list now, last I heard, was about two years. Totally unacceptable. Ridiculous. Unbelievable.

We're supposed to be a third-world country? Are we? Is that what the Premier (Mr. Pallister) wants to put us in, to take us back to third-world status? Come on. We can do better than this.

We should be funding psychologists and psychological services, putting many services under medicare. You know, this has been known for many years; Liberals have pointed out how important this is, if we're going to get a mental-health system which is working properly. And yet, psychologists were not considered, they were not mentioned and they were not paid attention to, as they should have been.

The government did put a considerable emphasis on infrastructure, but sadly there wasn't the vision that we needed, the vision to come out of this pandemic and the economic turmoil with a focus on green infrastructure, on doing things in Manitoba that would position us ahead instead of behind, that would position us with products and services which are going to be much more in demand in the future because they are green and they are recognizing the situation with climate change and the need to pay attention to it.

Sadly, it was not just green infrastructure which is missing, it was basic infrastructure to make sure that our children are healthy. South of the border in the United States recently, President Joe Biden announced $45 billion as an investment to remove and then replace all the lead water pipes in the United States.

And here we are in Winnipeg and we have no plan. In Regina, they have already delivered on a plan to end and replace all the water lead pipes by 2025. And yet here we are, it is already 2021, four years away, and there wasn't even a mention of this.

And when this is so important, when lead causes so much devastation, so–messes up kids' brains so that they are not able to do well in school, with their  learning and behavioural problems. If the Premier wants to really address real issues in the education system, he should start by paying some attention to the brains of our kids. This can make a a big difference.

And we know in Manitoba that we've had, for many years, major issues with lead pollution and it was hidden under the NDP government and it's not being paid attention to by the current government.

      Instead of these sorts of formative, forward-thinking approaches, which would address the need for improving our human potential in Manitoba, improve our circumstances for the long term–instead of this, the government is proceeding with property tax reductions which, when you look at them carefully, although they will help homeowners across the board, the fact is that those who have the biggest homes, those who have the biggest farms will be the ones who benefit the most.

      And this is an example of a government which, instead of helping those who need it the most, is pandering to their supporters who are wealthy and helping those who are wealthy, and hope then, I presume, that they will get donation money to run elections and so on. You know, this is a government which is not doing what it should've been doing and that is putting the common good first.

      Talking about education, we have had Bill 64, a bill to eliminate school boards, to make school boards the scapegoats for the government's failures. It's based on a false premise that 80 per cent of what school boards do has related to negotiating with teachers and to setting taxes. Actually, from many people that I have talked to and school trustees and others, it's about 5 per cent of the time; a gross exaggeration that the Premier (Mr. Pallister) is making to try and make school boards scapegoats.

      The premise on which he's working is that there would be replacement of 37 school boards with 794 mini-school-boards called community school councils. It is likely, sadly, that it won't work in the way that the Premier hopes, based on experience elsewhere, based on experience here that the students who need it most in low-income areas are likely to get the least help. Their parents are struggling, often working two or three jobs. They don't have the time to be working and spending a lot of time volunteering on community school councils.

      So this is poorly thought out. It's a design, sadly, which pays more attention to schools where there are students doing well than to schools where students are struggling.

      Paying attention to schools where students are struggling has been critical. For example, in Seine River, where they have done just this–and what they have done is to increase their overall average on scores from below average for the province to above average. It's an example of what can and should be done, and yet the Province is not paying attention to the real experience of schools and school boards and students here in Manitoba.

      One of the big problems that we have with the government's budget is that, from our experience with this government, they bring forward a budget, but a lot of the money never gets spent. So we don't really know what will actually be spent.

      We have a budget which says we're going to do this, but, you know, let's look at last year. Even though the Province set aside $46 million, it only spent $18.7 million on a Back to Work initiative and  Summer Student Recovery Jobs Program: $27.3 million not spent.

      A $10 million program announced last fall to provide pandemic staffing support payments to eligible non-profit organizations in the child-welfare, adult-disability services and child-care sector left 9 and a half million dollars not spent, in spite of the fact that there is a big need there. The program was poorly designed and poorly delivered.

      It was last year a Hometown Green Team program which provided funding for organizations to hire youth 15 to 29 for summer jobs: $4.2-million program, but $2.7 million of that was not spent.

      Then there was the restart Manitoba Event Attraction Strategy program. The budget was $8 million. And guess what? There wasn't even a dime spent; $8 million was left on the table. Poorly designed and poorly executed program, once again.

      This government may make promises, but we have learned that it rarely keeps them. It is a big problem in terms of this government, in terms of their credibility. It is a big problem, in that many people no longer believe so much of what this government says. It is a big problem for all of us that this government pays more attention to those who are very well off as opposed to supporting the common good of all in Manitoba.

      So it is a real issue. There are many issues with this budget.

      And I want now to move on to a motion, which I will move, seconded by the MLA for Tyndall Park.

      I move,

THAT the amendment be amended by adding after clause (bb), the following clauses:

(cc)  failing to adhere to the most basic standards of honesty, confidence and human decency, with a budget that gaslights Manitobans with empty promises, while denying the basic necessities of life of housing, food, clean water and life 'sabling'–saving and enabling medications and devices; and

(dd)  failing utterly to learn from its own catastrophic failures and incompetence in   mishandling the second wave of COVID‑19, business supports and the vaccine rollout, and choosing to plow ahead with radical right-wing policies that will eviscerate public services and the families and communities who depend on them; and

(ee)  failing the basic obligations of every govern­ment in a crisis to place the common good ahead of blind partisanship and ideology, choosing instead to present a budget that steals from the poor and gives to the rich, loots the public treasury while running up billions in debt in order to cut cheques that enriches itself and its political cronies.

      That, Mr. Speaker, is my comments.

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