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My comments on the 2022 provincial budget which was delivered on April 12

 On Wednesday, April 21, I had the opportunity to speak about the provincial budget 

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): 

      Richard Henry Dana, in his book, Two Years Before the Mast, describes his ex­per­ience as a seaman on a sailing ship which went all over the world, through storms and challenges during a two-year period from 1834 to 1836.

      In spite of the storms and all the other challenges, he makes the point that the ship was at its very finest, its most fittest, its best ever at the end of the voyage; and this was because the ship was very well looked after when it was at sea. And it was improved every step of the way until it reached its best functioning state at the end of the voyage.

      In Manitoba, we have a Conservative gov­ern­ment which has not learned the way of improving every day, of keeping matters in health in Manitoba in ship­shape and even better. We've been through two years of the COVID pandemic and, sadly, our health-care system, instead of being in better shape coming out of the storms of the pandemic, is looking ragged with too many health-care workers exhausted and burned out, with waiting lists for surgeries and diag­nos­tic tests at almost unbelievable levels, as the backlogs have been built up and up instead of trimmed down.

      Instead of using the time and the challenges to en­sure we have the best-ever health-care system coming out of the pandemic, we have a gov­ern­ment which only makes excuses for its failures.

      In the last two years, Manitobans have been on the very brink; indeed, flowing over the brink at times of our hospital and ICU capacity. The gov­ern­ment has  been forced to transfer seniors for hundreds of kilometres all over the province and, in more than 50 cases, to other provinces for care that could not be provided locally because the health-care system here in our province wasn't working adequately.

      There is an esti­mate of more than 160,000  Manitobans currently waiting for diag­nos­tic tests and for surgeries, and with about 10,000 of these waiting for eye surgery.

      Liberals believe in far better planning, including improving our surge capacity. Liberals believe in treating nurses and other health-care workers with respect, supporting skill upgrades and making sure that health care is working well so there's not the mandating of nurses to do second shifts; a mandating which saps a person's reserves, which leads to ex­haustion and burnout and nurses leaving the pro­fession. There can be hardly a greater need than to treat health-care workers with the dignity and respect they deserve so they can be fresh and enthusiastic and caring when they are at work.

      The lack of attention to the needs of health-care workers has led to far too many nurses and others leaving the health-care system and working for private agencies instead of the public health-care system. Instead of building up the health-care system over the last two years, the gov­ern­ment has let it run down. It is a sad testament to a tired gov­ern­ment which doesn't have the vision, the under­standing or the knowledge to manage the de­part­ment which should be at the very jewel of Manitoba's de­part­ments.

      They are not letting people use local initiatives. We have called numer­ous times for the removal of the caps on surgeries for hips and knees and eyes. This type of Conservative micromanage­ment is part of the reason that the system is not working as well as it should.

      One of the really critical areas of health care to get right is ensuring a robust system for helping individuals with mental health and addictions issues. We need a system in which individuals can get help when needed, a patient-centred system rather than the current, part-time RAAM clinics. Psychological ser­vices need to be covered under medicare, and ad­dictions care needs to be provided in an integrated and seamless fashion starting with access to care when it's needed, not an hour later, not a day later, not a week later or more, as is currently too often happening. Indeed, poor Mr. Lee Earnshaw tried for weeks to get help, and the system wasn't there for him.

      Pre­ven­tion–keeping people well instead of taking second fiddle to acute care–needs attention in parallel to addressing issues in acute care. We will never have an affordable health-care system if our approach to diabetes is focused primarily on provi­ding more dialy­sis and more heart and kidney transplants. Preventing type 2 diabetes is possible, but it needs a focused, effective province-wide effort.

      In the last 24 years, there have been major plans developed and never imple­mented. We've seen the diabetes section in Health eliminated and folded into an all-chronic diseases section. We've seen a gov­ern­ment in the last several years which has said it will start ad­dressing pre­ven­tion after it's got acute care under better operational manage­ment, and six years later it's still trying and not doing very well in acute care.

      Acute care will always struggle for sufficient re­sources so long as preventive health care is in­adequately supported. Pre­ven­tion is not only for diabetes; there are so many areas where action is urgently needed: in preventing the decay of hips and knees to reduce the number of hip and knee re­place­ments needed; in preventing lung cancer by reducing radon exposure; in preventing mental and physical health issues by reducing lead exposure and lead toxi­city; in preventing osteoporosis; in preventing sub­stance abuse; in preventing suicides; in preventing medical errors; in preventing dementia and attending to things like making sure that cochlear implants and their pro­ces­sor re­place­ments are properly supported.  That should've been in the budget but wasn't because of Conservative neglect of one of the most im­por­tant things for seniors, that is being able to hear.

      And back to diabetes. It is simple but is some­thing the Conservatives don't seem to be able to do: to en­sure in Thompson that people with diabetes can get the critically im­por­tant foot care, which is such an integral part of preventing amputations and worse.

      One of the major challenges of our time is re­ducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing cli­mate change. The IPCC has made it very clear that there is urgency of action. Action taken today takes time to have an impact. You can't just click a switch and all of a sudden greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced. It has to be some­thing that is well-planned and well-executed, and it's not just about reducing emissions. It's also about preparing our province for the economy of the future, an economy based dramati­cally less on fossil fuels and much more on electric vehicles, on improved energy-efficient buildings and retrofitting buildings, and on improved farming practices.

      Yet, for more than 20 years, gov­ern­ments in Manitoba have failed to act adequately to what is needed. Manitoba's greenhouse gas emissions have gone up 5.6 per cent since 2005. Other provinces are leaving us behind. Almost all provinces are achieving sig­ni­fi­cant reductions in greenhouse gases, but Manitoba is in ninth place, almost at the bottom. Over the period from 2005 to 2020, Canada's greenhouse gases, as a nation, dropped more than 9 per cent.

      It is, as I've said, not just about being left behind in addressing greenhouse gases. We are being left behind in building the economy of the future. It is sad to see this budget was not good enough. There was very little in it with respect to addressing greenhouse gases and building the economy of the future. Indeed, curiously, the minister yesterday, in response to my question about climate change, parroted the gov­ern­ment line that money was being spent on cleaning up mine sites.

      Now, while it is worthwhile to clean up old mine sites, it will have minimal impact on climate change in Manitoba. Let the gov­ern­ment show us their infor­ma­tion to say that it will actually improve climate change. There is far, far more other things that need to be done to make the big difference that we need in terms of climate change. Clearly, the gov­ern­ment has lost its focus, and clearly, the gov­ern­ment poorly understands what's needed to reduce green­house gas emissions.

      With disasters around the world and, of course, most notably, recently in Afghanistan and Ukraine, there has been a focus on the need to make Manitoba receptive to immigration; and yet, for all the gov­ern­ment's talk, it is not happening anywhere near the extent that it should. We have an op­por­tun­ity, and op­por­tun­ities like this need just not a passive approach as this gov­ern­ment is taking, but an aggressive ap­proach where we're reaching out, where we're involv­ing the members of the Afghan com­mu­nity and the members of the Ukrainian com­mu­nity effectively in bringing their relatives here.

      The gov­ern­ment needs to better understand how to bring people to Manitoba, building on the ties and family links between those in the Ukrainian and Afghan com­mu­nities in Manitoba, to bring people here who will stay here and who will help to build our province. Too many of those who are coming for other reasons are staying here for a short while and then moving on somewhere else. What we want to do is to build the province and have people stay here longer term.

      I see the op­por­tun­ity in working with people in the Afghan and Ukrainian com­mu­nities in Winnipeg, and we can and we must do better.

      And part of this needs to be to restore the health-care coverage to inter­national students. We saw how im­por­tant this was when we had a boy from Kenya who got very sick and sadly died. We need to get rid of the $500 PC tax on immigrants coming to Manitoba and welcome them rather than tax them as they come in and land at the airport.

      We need, clearly, in this time to be doing what we can in terms of recon­ciliation, addressing and working in part­ner­ship with Indigenous com­mu­nities to im­prove edu­ca­tional out­comes for Indigenous students province-wide. We need to recog­nize and be honest about the money that was stolen by NDP and Conservative gov­ern­ments through the children's special allowances program, and return that and help it to build up the op­por­tun­ities for kids.

      We need to complete all the truth and recon­cilia­tion calls and the calls from the missing and murdered women inquiries that are based on and require prov­incial action.

      With seniors, as my colleague from Tyndall Park has spoken so often and so eloquently, we need a seniors advocate. We don't need another budget where seniors are missing. We need a good enough plan for long-term care to address the staffing to plan for the future, and yet we're not seeing it. It is more of the same and with very little really changed.

      In fisheries–we know how im­por­tant it is to have sus­tain­able fisheries. We need a real solid effort to eco-certify the fisheries on our great lakes: Lake Winnipeg, Lake Winnipegosis, Lake Manitoba. There's been some tinkering under this gov­ern­ment, but there's not a credible plan to make sure that they are actually eco-certified. And it needs action because right now, we're losing dollars for whitefish fisher­men because the fishery is not eco-certified. It's time we improved.

      On edu­ca­tion, the gov­ern­ment is failing–failing to make the kinds of invest­ments in edu­ca­tion at all levels which are needed to make sure that our students are doing well. And these are needed especially for those children with learning dis­abil­ities, with aspects of neurodiversity, and for areas in post-secondary edu­ca­tion. There is a failure of this gov­ern­ment to ensure that children attending Manitoba's schools receive a minimum of one meal each day. Straight­for­ward, simple, but not being done.

      On the economy, the gov­ern­ment has put forward a $50-million plan to venture capital funding, but it's not clear that this will be distributed on merit. We are quite concerned that this will be considered and dis­tributed through political influence. We've seen the conflicts of interest that have already been present in many of the measures that the Conservatives have taken over the last several years. When it comes to provision of capital for busi­ness, we prefer the proven and esta­blished Alberta model. It at least is an ap­proach that has worked and shown that it's worked in Alberta.

      On justice, there was a problem during the pan­demic. The PCs were appeasing lawbreakers who blocked transportation at the border, in Emerson. This happened for days, blocking one of our major trans­por­tation routes. Manitoba Liberals believe in en­forcing prov­incial laws, especially when it's having such a detrimental effect on our economy and especially when we're dealing with issues of health and safety.

      When it comes to demo­cracy, we've watched the Premier (Mrs. Stefanson) fail to consider and prompt­ly report conflicts of interest. We are concerned about this. There has not been the sub­stan­tial im­prove­ment of conflict of interest legis­lation that this province deserved. And we need and must have that if we're going to move forward. Well, corruption and conflict of interest have too often eroded support for gov­ern­ments in the past and they are doing this now with the Conservative gov­ern­ment when people who are looking closely.

      When it comes to emergency measures, we are in a situation right now where there remains some concerns about floods. And this is parti­cularly true because we've just had a spring blizzard and we have a forecast where there is more rain and snow to come over the next week or so. And yet, we have yet to have a min­is­terial statement this spring on flood con­di­tions, on the gov­ern­ment's planning. We don't know whether gov­ern­ment is actually planning and ready if there were a flood.

      The gov­ern­ment says, what flood? Well, it's pos­sible we may get by without a flood. But on the other hand, if we have a flood, it sure helps to be ready and prepared, and we haven't seen the pre­par­ations that the gov­ern­ment has done or has not done. And it's time that the gov­ern­ment be more open and accountable so that Manitobans can have a little more con­fi­dence when it comes to emergencies.

      We saw what happened with the disrespect to people in the Emergency Measures Organization in the early days of the pandemic. We think this is a very im­por­tant area and that it is really im­por­tant that we are more ready than sometimes we have been in the past.


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