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, MLA Burrows
April 18, 2013

Response to Budget 2013

Mr. Speaker, it's an honour to be in the House again representing the constituents of Burrows and responding to the budget, and I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to do so.

I'd like to first just take a minute and thank the Premier (Mr. Selinger) and the Finance Minister and all of those people who worked directly on creating a budget during such uncertain times.

Good government is about making choices that will benefit all Manitobans, their children and their grandchildren over the long term, and I believe that's what we've done in budget 2013. I know that the decisions were difficult to make. It wasn't an easy choice to increase the PST even for a time-limited period, but it was a necessary choice. It is a choice that allows Manitobans to continue to move forward in critical areas like fighting the flood that must be done.

It will allow us to participate in the federal government's Building Canada plan to build critical infrastructure. They have said they will put some money into our infrastructure … and for the promise to access that they have to match them. Infrastructure, as everyone knows, is expensive. But the key to moving forward and keeping Manitoba one of the most affordable places to live in the country is doing this work. The investments that we've made and will continue to make in infrastructure provide the high quality of life that Manitoba families have come to expect at least since 1999.

Good government means we cannot ignore the infrastructure. The flood of 2011 was historic in its proportions. The MLA for the Interlake described flying over the land and that it looked like a tornado had devastated the country.

We will have had three floods, Mr. Speaker, in five years. This is not the norm. Manitoba faces the largest natural disasters due to these floods of any province in Canada. It cost and is costing over $1.2 billion… and one of the great things about Manitobans and about the constituents in my area is they care about people beyond their borders. They want to see them helped as we have been doing.

Other governments in the past have made different choices. The MLA from St. Norbert yesterday spoke of how in the flood of 1997, 3,000 homes in St. Norbert were evacuated. The people were told, Mr. Speaker, that they needed to move their furnaces and their hot water heaters to the main floor in order to save them.

The floodway was expanded. And the St. Norbert folks are now able to remain comfortably in their homes. No one is moving those furnaces now, Mr. Speaker.

A study has come in following the flood of 2011 and it recommends various flood mitigation expenditures, to the tune of about $1 billion. This work would help prevent flooding in particular areas as the floodway did for Winnipeg, Mr. Speaker. At the time, when that was built, people were angry. They didn't want to spend the money. It's difficult to commit that kind of money. But time has proven that it was the right decision. Billions of dollars have been saved in Manitoba because of that decision, and we need to make the same kind of investment for our children and our grandchildren.

When tough times hit, and they will hit over and over, every government makes choices, Mr. Speaker. In the '90s, there were tough times. The government of the day chose to cut education, health care, 1,000 nurses, I believe. Medical spaces to train more doctors were reduced, and those things had long-term effects for Manitobans. As the Minister of Health (Ms. Oswald) mentions, it takes about 10 years to build up a doctor. It's not a short process to try and catch up over those cuts.

The Margaret Thatcher government, going back in the news–it's in the news lately because of the death of Margaret Thatcher–the mayor of London said that every real problem that Britain faces today is a legacy of the fact that she was fundamentally wrong. And the people who lived through that time, and I know some of them, I have friends from there, she cut drastically and deeply, and that was the philosophy of her government. Glenda Jackson, an MP in Britain, said that the schools during that time had to fundraise to put paper and pencils on the desks of the children. I mention these things only to indicate that different governments have different philosophies, Mr. Speaker. Some care only about the books, but there is a balanced approach to protect the average person of Manitoba.

…once you're in government, you've realized that in order to spend, you have to have the money, and we understand that. In government, you have to make tough, responsible choices, and we believe strongly in certain things, Mr. Speaker, because we believe these things will protect Manitobans and protect Manitoba's future.

We have done well, and Manitoba is growing. Manitoba builds and Manitoba works. But there are risks out there, Mr. Speaker, and sometimes, when we're busy, as people in my constituency are, working hard and taking care of their families, often of their parents, who have chosen to remain in their homes, they do not have a lot of time to be looking outside of the borders of Manitoba. But we live now in a global economy and there is no way that will change. We are affected by the fact that the economy did not improve in the rest of the world around us the way the forecasts of others claimed they would. We are affected by the floods…

But you don't always hear these things because we like to talk as a government about what we can do, rather than about what other governments are not doing for the people of Manitoba. Our government has strong beliefs about what we need to do, and other governments have slashed education. We have not. We have not cut the education funding for your children and the grandchildren of Manitoba because, as our Premier (Mr. Selinger) has said, the public education is the No. 1 prevention program that we have.

Our graduation rates in this province, Mr. Speaker, have risen from about 71 per cent to a little over 84 per cent. I recently was talking to some teachers in the United States, and one of them mentioned that the graduation rate in Chicago is 50 per cent. Helping our kids succeed by helping them graduate is a key to Manitoba's future. It is what makes it possible for us to maintain that low unemployment rate.

Manitoba is not jobless. Joblessness is the death of our economy. It is something to be rightfully feared. Budget 2013 will keep Manitobans working. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada, Mr. Speaker, and it will keep them able to continue to spend in Manitoba. You know, I come from rural Manitoba from a farm family. And I was reminded by one of my colleagues of the Depression of the 1930s that my father lived through. And I can remember that my dad, 40 to 50 years after the Depression, said to me he was solely responsible as a very young man to try to not lose that farm and for not allowing the animals to starve, and he felt that he had failed not because he lost the farm, but because the effects of that experience stayed with him for the rest of his life. And he said, I should have been buying the land around my farm as it came up; I should have been expanding. And he couldn't do it because that fear remained with him, for 40, 50 years, of not having the money to be able to make sure that he was going to be able to pay that mortgage. It's terrifying. And the one thing that we need to do, and that we are doing in this province, is ensuring that Manitobans continue to work.

Alberta, our apparently rich neighbour, with the gigantic deficit, chose to slash advanced education. Again, we've not chosen that road. They're still our neighbours. We're still close to them. Because those kids are your kids, they're our grandchildren, and every person in my constituency with children wants them to do well–that is what these investments that we are making in Manitoba make it possible to do. Education, as someone said, is not the filling of the pail, Mr. Speaker, it is the lighting of a fire. And we are committed, as a government, to do all we can to light the fire of creativity and curiosity and study and research and learning in the youth of our province. We do that, also, with excellent legislation. And you know what? Sometimes it's the little things that can make the biggest difference. The legislation that we just put through last year, for example, on changing student report cards–I was recently told by one of the principals, Doug Taylor, that it has had the greatest effect that he has seen in 33 years of education on providing concrete feedback for the students about their learning, and it has revitalized the teachers themselves, as they had to more specifically assess each student's strengths and challenges and next steps.

Because Manitoba builds, we have excellent jobs in the trades, and we continue to invest in our youth with apprentice programs and mentorship programs and job training. There was an article in the Free Press just today, I believe, that the engineers were talking about how busy they are in this province. That was not the case in the 1990s. The next plumbers, the next engineer could be your son or daughter, and it's an investment that we need to continue. It's an investment in the families of our province.

Health care–yes, other governments would have slashed health care. There's no doubt about it. We have seen it before. But as I went from door to door–and we talk about listening to our constituents–not one of them asked me to cut health care–not one. No. The ACCESS centre will open soon on Keewatin and Burrows. The QuickCare clinic has already opened on McGregor with extended hours into the evening and weekends.

You know what they've said on the door. They've got tears in their eyes, Mr. Speaker, as they told me how thankful they are for the free cancer drugs that have changed their lives.

The Minister of Health (Ms. Oswald) recently mentioned how she'd just heard a story of someone saved by one of the defibrillators that are now distributed throughout the province. That person obviously will not be the only one saved. We are the only province in the country that has done it, the only province in the country. And when that person who is saved is your grandmother or your mother or your father or perhaps your child, you will not pause to complain that the government did not cancel that program.

Early childhood education, another key prevention strategy: we continue to work to increase the number of daycare spaces available to the people of our city and our province. As I said, Manitoba works, and they need excellent early childhood education in order to do that. We want to also help those single moms that are out there get back to work and for that we need to continue to invest in early childhood education.

Our province is known throughout the country as the only one with a Healthy Child Committee of Cabinet, the only one in Canada. We have done significant research into what works to help our children grow and succeed, and we are not cutting that. The Minister of Children and Youth Opportunities (Mr. Chief) has a constant message on the importance of prevention, as do many in our government because prevention is responsible governing. He speaks of our after-school programs. I have one in my neighbourhood; it happens to be called the Wayfinders program, and it is a key to the success of our youth. And our youth are key to your old age, Mr. Speaker–not that I'm suggesting it's imminent. I know you're a long way from old age yet. The after-school program in my area started with about 40 kids. There are now about 260 young people and it's a six-day-a-week all-summer-long program that invests in our youth and, no, we are not cutting it. … It is helping them to graduate. One of young people last year, in fact, ended up with a scholarship to the Asper School of Business. I understand they're doing very well.

Back in the '90s during tough times, you might remember that neighbourhoods were dying… No money was coming in; nothing was being built. It is this government that began and continues with a program called Neighbourhoods Alive! that brings life back into our communities. We have that programming operating right now in Burrows in an area around Elwick and it is bringing that area back to life. The community is working together, and I would like to thank them for all their tremendous work and using that funding to invest in that area's future, in the future of our youth and the adults who live there. We have an adult learning centre there on Jefferson that is doing an amazing job, including helping newcomers with language, new cultures, driver's licence. And no, Mr. Speaker, we're not cutting that.

Hydro, Mr. Speaker, again, Manitoba works and Manitoba builds clean energy, and it remains our No. 1 resource. It is our oil, and anyone who thinks that we should again mothball our projects is not building for Manitoba's future.

We have the lowest package of costs in Canada when it comes to heat, light and auto insurance.

In this province, you can afford child care. It's one of the lowest-cost child cares in the country. The children of Manitoba can be involved in recreation programs in Manitoba because they can afford to use them. They can be involved in music programs and art programs and theatre programs in their schools because, unlike other parts of the world, these have not and will not be cut. Your child may, like some of the children at Elwick Community School, find themself on stage with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra because of not cutting those programs.

Our government supports the work of our police and, no, I don't think we're cutting them either.

We know that people in Manitoba need more housing, and we are building … social housing and we are creating a new tax credit for construction of rental units in Manitoba. This will not only create more housing; it creates more jobs. It creates money flowing into the economy. It helps our businesses.

You know, it's funny, Aristotle… [said that] To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing and be nothing, because that is the only way you will never be criticized is if you do nothing–but that is not the way of this government.

The money from this tax will go into a building fund for the length of time that the federal government is running their Building Canada program. The people will know exactly where the money is being spent. It's going into the future of our youth and, more importantly, into the future of your children, your grandchildren. For some people the personal income tax deduction that they're getting will offset a good amount of that money. For others it will cost them approximately, in the end, after that, about $4 a month. It's $4 a month to keep Manitoba working and Manitoba building. There is no perfect answer. There isn't; we know that. But there are very clear-cut choices between what you can do. You can slash, you can cut or you can build a future, and we choose to build a future. The lights in Manitoba, thanks to hydro…are fully on and blazing brightly and we intend to keep them that way.

Thank you so much, Mr. Speaker.