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, MLA Gimli
April 22, 2013

Excerpts from Response to the Budget 2013

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I’m very proud to stand in the House today to speak to this legislation, speak to this budget, speak to the fact that today's the day that we announced 60 more training positions for nurses, that we introduced more legislation to protect endangered species on Earth Day and, of course, introducing legislation to make our highways and roads safer for Manitobans, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It might come as a surprise to my colleagues [opposite] that I will not be supporting their amendment, and I’d also like to acknowledge at this time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the fact that we had a great celebration in Gimli over the weekend. I was very pleased to see so many family and friends from the community out to help my dad celebrate his 80th birthday.

Now, what was rather interesting about that celebration was the fact that we're in the church basement setting up for the party and the power went out. And then we went up to church for the service and we're sitting there in the dark, the power was still out, but it flickered, so we knew that Manitoba Hydro had determined what the problem was, and it came back on, and certainly they had restored the power in time where the big coffee urn had five minutes to spare when everyone came down after church to celebrate my dad's birthday. But my dad, in his true form, said, well, they didn't have power when I was born, so he took it all in stride, and it was a great celebration of 80 years of a life well lived.

One of the things about my dad, when I asked my mom, in one sentence how you could summarize 80 years of a life well lived, she said this about Dad: that you should not measure a person for his possessions, rather how he uses those possessions for the service and care of others.

And I think that applies to what we're talking about here today. I think it applies in many ways to what we're talking about here today. And I know that–like I say, the [members] across the way has said what they would do with the resources that are available to them as a government, and they would cut and cut and cut. And we, on the other hand, are saying no, it's not a time for this to happen again, because we saw what happened in the 1990s, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

And I know that when we've heard the opposition talk in this Chamber about the budget, it's a déjà vu all over again. We have a Leader of the Opposition who had been in that government which he called one of the greatest governments that Manitoba was blessed to have, in Gary Filmon's government, who is taking back those ideas from the 1990s about how we deal with fiscal challenges in this province of Manitoba.

Now, you know, I do know that the members opposite had been out to Gimli for a caucus retreat. That's very nice that they've discovered Gimli again; they haven't been there for quite some time. But while they were out there, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they would have seen the investments that we've made in Gimli.

They would have seen the new health-care facility, redevelopment of the Gimli health centre, which was over $13 million, plus a $6-million investment in dialysis. And it's worth mentioning yet again that during the election, when we had promised to do that, in '07, the opposition manager came over telling me, what are you doing? That's a waste of money. We don't need dialysis unit in Gimli hospital. Well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I was very proud to cut the ribbon with the Premier and with the Health Minister at the time to celebrate the dialysis unit in Gimli hospital, because that makes a difference to Manitobans, bringing health care closer to home. And, of course, a lot of the improvements that we've made in health care in the Gimli health centre and in the surrounding area with Telehealth and all the other supports that we've been providing in the area speaks volumes to our commitment to health care. And that's a very important part of who we are as government.

And, of course, they would have seen that we've invested, just in the town of Gimli itself, over $9 million in infrastructure to support our learning environment in Gimli with the improvements to the Sigurbjorg Stefansson School, with the improvements to the George Johnson Middle School and with the improvements to the Gimli High School. And bricks and mortar aside, we keep investing in education. Yes, this is a challenging year. This is a challenging year because of the world economic downturn and because of the challenges that we're facing with the flood, but we still invested over $23 million in education, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The opposition cut education funding when they were faced with similar challenges. So I think it really speaks volumes to who we are and the choices that we're making and the choices we're making on behalf of Manitobans.

When they were in Gimli and they saw all these wonderful things that we've done, it reminded me of the last time they were in power when they cut the funding to the Gimli hospital by 25 per cent. That's the last time they were in power. And, of course, we've said it before about the zero, zero, -2, -2 funding announcements–or lack of funding announcements for education that we saw while they were in office, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Now, another thing that they would have seen if they were in Gimli was the fact that we've invested a lot of money in the south basin diking system and drainage systems in our community to address the challenges that we're about to face with the flooding. And it's rather curious, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that [members opposite] will say they only spent this percentage of the budget on flood protection. I think we only spent $1.2 billion in flood protection, so in my view there's never the word only when it attached to public funds. These are public funds and we take the stewardship of those public funds very seriously, and $1.2 billion in investments in flood preparation speaks volumes to our commitment to supporting Manitobans who find themselves at risk of being flooded. And we, of course, are looking at more budgetary considerations through this budget to find more supports for Manitobans on the prevention side and making Manitoba a safer place for all those who choose to live along the rivers and lakes of this great province, and it's a good number of people, as we know.

So that's our commitment, it is to stand with Manitobans, to support Manitobans who have faced this crisis time and time again, but they say, it's only a certain percentage of our budget. Well, again, we heard, and it's been reiterated by my colleague the Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation (Mr. Ashton), what Premier Filmon had said during the flood: That's what you get for living on a flood plain. And that was absolutely disgusting that that was the premier of our province's position on this.

And, it’s kind of interesting because I think yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, spoke to the position of one of our federal colleagues when it came to how we worked to address the flood situation here in Manitoba. I was at a meeting when he said, well, a cottage is a luxury item, so we shouldn't be providing any support for cottagers. Manitobans own more cottages per capita than any other jurisdiction in Canada because it's important for us for our recreation and the quality of life we enjoy when we do eventually get summer in this province. We do enjoy the lake. We do enjoy the cottage, and we should be there to support Manitobans, as we have been, when it comes to supporting their cottages and finding ways to get them back on their feet after that devastation of 2011. But, yes, those were the words of our federal Member of Parliament. They're luxury items. We shouldn't be providing support for cottages.

Now, of course, we also know that we have come up with a number of different programs to support agricultural community and the challenges that they face because of the flood, and we know that we'll continue to be there to support our agricultural producers in light of what we're expecting to see in this next flood, yet our third largest–third flood episode in the last five years.

Now, members opposite will put their head in the sand. Aw, it's a flood. We don't need to worry about that. They're not worried about it. Clearly, they're not worried about it because what was the first question the Leader of the Opposition asked the very first question period of this session. He got up in this House and said, I think it's important that you call a by-election in Morris and consider doing so in an urgent manner. It's–there's some urgency. I think–I wrote it down. He said, and I quote: Consider with some urgency the need to call a by-election in Morris.

Well, I don't know if anyone has pointed out to the Leader of the Opposition that Morris often is flooding, and he would rather have us running a by‑election in Morris than dealing with the flood. I think it was shameful that the Leader of the Opposition stood and said that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Now, now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I'll go back to the fact that the opposition was at Gimli for a retreat, and it was really something telling for me because the only sound bite that I heard in the local media that came out of that was they were going to stand up and be champions because of a tax on liquor. And I thought that was pretty telling because that night that they were in Gimli I was at a hearing at on poverty and getting community groups together to talk about poverty issues. So, quite a contrast, I might suggest to you in terms of having their sound bite coming out of their meeting in Gimli, dealing with one issue when I'm there dealing with my constituents and talking about how we can work together to address issues of poverty within our community, and hearing from the advocates and talking to the advocates.

But, you know, I know it's pretty clear why the opposition wouldn't want to talk about poverty with the constituents in Gimli because we remember what happened in the 1990s, and, you know, I don't have problems going back. I mean, the previous speaker kept harping on the 1999 election, but you remember what happened in the 1990s. Single persons, non-disabled, were reduced by $40 in '93, reduced again by $14 in 1994, reduced again by $95.60 in 1996, cut nearly $150 per month, and the benefits of people that need it are helped the most.

And, of course, the Universal Child Care Benefit, as we've said, they clawed it back at a cost of $48 million per year, and we, of course, reversed that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so, and they came up with, of course, the snitch line. That's another classic example. Workfare. We know what they did with workfare. So, clearly, that's why they wouldn't talk about poverty when they're in Gimli.

Now, you know, another thing that I keep hearing from members opposite when they talk about only $1.2 billion, well, let's put some context into one of the other favourite issues that the members opposite like to talk about, and that's public financing of political parties. Now, if you were to take it and use their mathematics and talk about a percentage of budget, the amount of money dedicated to public financing of political parties is 0.00004286 per cent. I'm not going to say only, though, because, as I said, we are stewards of the public purse, and there is no only in any amount of money that we're going to talk about.

But why is it that we have public funding of political parties? Well, I think you would know that all too well, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The fact is that there are rules in place where we have to be accountable to the public for how elections are conducted, and we know that these rules have become more stringent and transparency comes at a cost, and why do we have these rules in place?

Well, of course, we know that during the 1990s members opposite tried to hijack an election, vote rigging, all of these issues that were brought to the public with the Monnin inquiry, talked about how they tried to sabotage the electoral process, and I know yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you were very much a victim of campaigns that completely lacked in integrity and challenged the integrity of the electoral system. So, yes, there is a cost to democracy. There is a cost to being accountable. There is a cost to finding a way to make sure that all political parties are playing fair. So that 0.00004286 per cent is money well invested in support of democracy.

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So another area that I'd like to talk about, Mr. Speaker, is the fact that they talk about our government as we’ve never cut taxes. I mean, we have had a history of finding ways to make Manitoba more affordable and competitive in our tenure in office, and I always loved this: that the gurus of business across the way have talked about their support for small business. Well, we're the government that went from 9 per cent to zero. We're the government that's increased the threshold so more small businesses are not paying any taxes. We're the government that has cut corporate–capitalization tax, cut the corporate tax, and we continue to find ways to support small business but also at home supporting the homeowners with the Education Property Tax Credit, supporting Manitobans by increasing the base personal exemption rate. All of these things that we've done, and not once have members voted in favour of any of these tax cuts.

So, Mr. Speaker, I'm looking at the clock realizing that there are a lot of members on this side of the House who would like to speak as well, so I'll be winding down my comments shortly. But, again–and I appreciate the support from members opposite, but again I will not be supporting the amendment as proposed by the [member’s opposite], and I will be standing with my colleagues to vote in favour of a budget that support what matters the most to Manitobans, that is, to continue to build Manitoba. It's not the time to take your foot off the gas when it comes to building this province. We'll continue to do so, and Manitobans all over the province will see the benefits of this budget in due time, and I again would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak today and conclude my comments as such.