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Manitoba Throne Speech

November 21st, Lt. Governor Anita Neville delivered the 15-page Throne Speech of the new government, opening the first session of the 43rd Manitoba legislature. 

After briefly mentioning how decisions by the previous government have left fiscal challenges for the province, the NDP has sworn to balance the budget by the end of this term in office, promising to be “fiscally responsible while investing in health care, education and communities across the province.” 

On the speech’s first page, the government listed priorities of action ranging from “record wait times for health care, to rising costs for families and a homelessness crisis that is visible across the province – in our downtowns, in rural communities across the north.” 

Axe the Gas Tax 

Beginning January 1st, the province will pause the provincial tax on gas of 14 cents per litre. There is no end date for this temporary measure. 

The Kinew government has also made promises to assist Manitobans in reducing their carbon emissions through federal funding to replace gas heating in homes with geothermal heating. 

The Manitoba government hopes to make Manitoba a “leader in the low-carbon economy with an agreement from the federal government to deliver funding for a geothermal heat pump program that will connect homes across Manitoba with low-carbon, affordable energy and offer new opportunities to train the next generation of energy workers.” 

Geothermal Heat pumps 

$500 million of investments from the federal government has been secured to help “deliver low-carbon, reliable, and affordable electricity to people and businesses across the province.” This, they argue, will help Manitoba to achieve their goals of reducing carbon emissions. 

The federal government will help households and businesses transfer to geothermal energy, a low-carbon heating method. They ensure this will create jobs for Manitobans in addition to reducing the carbon footprint. 

Improving Health Care 

The government hopes to reduce wait times for surgeries and MRIs. Specifically mentioned were expansions of services at Grace Hospital, Health Sciences Centre, Concordia Hospital and Brandon Regional Health Centre. 

In the speech, they addressed how Winnipeg has “some of the worst ER wait times on record,” leaving countless Manitobans to wait upwards of 10 hours daily while many in Northern communities are forced to drive into Winnipeg to have health care services. 

After years of increasing hospital wait times, more beds are promised to be available in Manitoba hospitals. The Throne Speech came only days after a patient at Grace Hospital died while waiting for an in-patient bed. The patient had been assessed and triaged by staff but ultimately waited 33 hours before they passed away. 

The speech mentioned how the government is launching a “health care listening” tour to understand the current issues those in Manitoba health care are dealing with today. They say they have already taken steps to address the issue of hospital wait times and mentioned opening additional surgical slates at Grace Hospital and expanding spinal surgery capacity at the Health Sciences Centre, Concordia Hospital and the Brandon Regional Health Centre. It is hoped that this will reduce overall wait times. 

The speech clearly said that the current situation for health care workers is unsustainable and must be greatly improved to retain health care workers. Their specific goals include creating a healthier work culture in Manitoba health care that “respects nurses, doctors, allied health care professionals, aides and support staff by respecting their decision-making powers, their expertise, and empowering them to do what’s best” for patients. 

This week, it was announced that the province is also moving forward to create a system of free birth control under Manitoba Health Care. 

Ending Chronic Homelessness 

A goal Wab Kinew has discussed since before the campaign has been working to end chronic homelessness over the next eight years. This will be shouldered primarily by a new department of Housing, Addictions and Homelessness. The department was created to “break down barriers and cut through the excuses to deliver the housing and wrap-around services needed to get people out of bus shelters and tents with dignity and compassion.” 

The new department is designed to work with every level of government, local businesses and community organizations to connect people in need with the necessary support. 

With downtown Winnipeg in an increasingly desolate state, the government ensured they would work alongside law enforcement and community safety patrols to help make downtown safer for everyone. Specifically, they will help law enforcement to focus on violent crime by hiring mental health professionals to assist with non-violent calls. These individuals will cater to situations that are low-risk and can require a calm-minded, conversational resolution. 

Closer Relationships with Indigenous Communities  

The Kinew government is working to “reset the relationships” with Indigenous governments across the province. The major priorities will be improving access to health care for northern communities and increasing access to proper education. 

They mentioned following through on their promise to search the landfill for the remains of Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran, and Buffalo Woman, whose identity has yet to be determined. 

Free meals in public schools 

Their promise to introduce a nutrition program in every school will help many who are underprivileged to have access to a proper diet. The program will “have a profound impact on the next generation, improving educational outcomes and graduation rates and lifting families out of poverty.” 

The program is slated to begin this school year. 

In addition to this, the government aims to reduce the class sizes for early learners. Aimed at young children, smaller class sizes create more opportunities for students’ one-on-one learning time with teachers and assistants. One-on-one learning is proven to enhance a child’s ability to understand and retain what they are being taught. 

They will also aim to recruit more French language teachers in the province. In 2021, Stats Canada reported that 112,115 Manitobans can carry a conversation in French, a figure which is underrepresented by the rate of French-speaking teachers in the province. 

The government stated they would “combat division” in the province by including Holocaust education in the K-12 curriculum. They also said they will ensure teachers have “anti-Islamaphobia toolkits that come from Manitoba’s Islamic community.” 

“Let us be clear, our government views these only as first steps. We are committed to walking forward with you to combat these forms of hatred, as well as homophobia, transphobia, and all other negative ideologies which seek to divide us as Manitobans.” 

Business Prospects 

“You have asked us to be a government that will work together with business leaders, workers, community organizations and all orders of government to make life better for Manitobans.” 

As anyone knows, these promises will come at a cost. The government recognized the province would need to grow the provincial economy. The government is establishing a Premier’s Business and Jobs team, the object of which will create connections with Manitoba business owners. 

The team will have connections in every region in the province. The team will work with business owners to articulate the province’s economic strategy clearly, including leaning into “new low-carbon opportunities.” 

As Kinew said in his acceptance speech, “the economic horse pulls the social cart.” 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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