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, MLA Thompson
April 17, 2013

Reply to the Budget Speech

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured again to be able to rise in this House to address one of the most important debates that we have. We obviously had a very important debate with the debate on the Throne Speech. But this, in many ways, gets to the heart and soul of what government is all about. It's about choices. Budgets are very much about making, in some cases, very difficult choices. Fundamentally, it's about our economy. It's about social justice as well because we are very cognizant whatever we do in this House–whatever we do as the government makes a very significant impact on Manitobans.

And I must say, Mr. Speaker, I always look forward to this debate, but I'm a bit of a loss of where to begin after the previous speech by the Leader of the Opposition. I was struck by the fact that we have pretty broad debate on the budget, but there's two things that really stood out from that speech: No. 1 was the degree to which the Leader of the Opposition went out of his way to talk about Manitoba Hydro and to defend a position that would freeze construction of new Hydro dams–and I'm going to get to that in a few moments. Nothing in the budget itself, but he clearly put on the record what he said outside of this House, that he'll continue with a pattern we've seen from members opposite for decades in terms of shutting down hydro development.

What also struck me, Mr. Speaker, and, you know, there'll be time to have a full debate on this, but I was shocked when he actually stood up and started talking about Bill 18. Now, we have a bill in this Legislature; it's about bullying. We're going to have a chance to debate that, but I know it's been rather difficult for some members opposite, particularly the Leader of the Opposition, to get away from their obsession with Bill 18. By the way, I'll put on the record I support Bill 18. I support protecting our students against bullying and I have no problem in the year 2013 allowing students to organize gay-straight alliances. There are lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered Manitobans, and there are many other Manitobans who want to join with them to make sure that we don't have homophobia in this province and we don't have bullying.

But, you know, Mr. Speaker, it struck me that that's been one of the issues that members opposite have had a difficulty with. You know, I–and I understand why. I understand why. I mean, they, you know, the member opposite talked about our federal party. I mean, I know what goes on at, you know, Conservative meetings. First of all, by the way, they don't have much debate on policy. They do it behind closed doors. They're usually too busy actually either putting knives in their leader's back or pulling the knives out of their leader's back. And I notice the Leader of the Opposition spent a lot of time addressing his comments to his–to the members of his caucus. I think the body language said it all.

But, Mr. Speaker, you know, I do want to put on the record that this is budget debate, and if the members opposite want to get into debating Bill 18, we on this side are glad to do that. But, you know, in a way, it shows the degree to which those two debates that they brought forward show how out of touch they are with Manitoba today because I can tell you this is a province in which people are socially tolerant and they also believe in hydro development. So, on those two scores alone you see how far out of whack the members are.

What's particularly noticeable, if you look at the Leader of the Opposition's speeches, I think you'd also put on the record the degree to which this Conservative Party has moved dramatically away from the Conservative Party up until around the 1960s in this province. Now, Duff Roblin, by the way, brought in the sales tax, and Duff Roblin built schools and he built hospitals, and Duff Roblin built hydro dams. And I always ask this, Mr. Speaker, it's–I know it's a bit of a trick question–but I ask people when I go around the province to name a single dam that members opposite built in–from 1969 on. And it's a trick question because the answer is, none. What they did when they were elected in 1977 is they mothballed Limestone; we built Limestone.

What did they do when they got into government under the Filmon government, of which the leader opposition was a lead minister, minister of Emergency Measures, minister of Government Services at the time? They cancelled, Mr. Speaker, they mothballed Conawapa. And what did we do? We built Limestone. We built the Wuskwatim Dam, and we put in place the plans that can build Keeyask and Conawapa and harness our gold: our water, our hydro development. And once again, what are members opposite doing? They're saying they would shut it down. History is repeating itself.

Mr. Speaker, but this is not only the only area where they're so dramatically different from their party historically. Let's talk about what the Roblin government did. They undertook one of the toughest challenges that you can imagine, and that was the aftermath of the flood of 1950. Now, the flood of 1950, for members opposite who perhaps have forgotten some of their history, and they should talk to some of the people who went through it. It led to 100,000 people being evacuated all up and down the Red River Valley and here in the city of Winnipeg. It led to 10,000 homes being destroyed. It created millions and hundreds of millions of dollars.

And what came out of that was a study of alternatives. But what came out of it really was a political will to change things. And, Mr. Speaker, if anybody doubts the value of that, in 2009 we had a flood that was a greater flood than 1950 and we didn't have 100,000 people evacuated and 10,000 homes destroyed. We had one home affected by water seepage. That showed the value of the Red River Floodway and the wisdom of the people of the–of Manitoba and the politicians who took on that challenge in the 1950s and 1960s.

Well, I can tell you, I was very honoured to be a minister who was able to work on the flood river–the Red River Floodway expansion. And there's another generation of politicians and leaders in this province who've undertaken that tremendous challenge, because when we came into government in 1999, we recognized that flood mitigation had to be a top priority. Mr. Speaker, how much have we spent on flood mitigation in the last decade plus–a billion dollars. But out of that we now have the city of Winnipeg protected to one-in-700-year flooding, and all throughout the Red River Valley, as we face a flood that could very much be in the level of 2009 this year, we have those dikes, the $130-million worth of dikes, to protect those communities and to protect those homes.

So we undertook that challenge and we worked with the federal government. We obtained specific targeted funding for both of those major initiatives, and I want to put on the record that that's very much what this budget is all about.

It's fine to get up and ask questions, as members opposite do on occasion, on flood issues. It's fine to go around to meetings, Mr. Speaker, and I know the Leader of the Opposition had a meeting, I know the Minister of Finance (Mr. Struthers) was there, and, you know, a lot of colourful language, a lot of really incorrect information as well, which are repeated on the record today. I suggest he read the flood report about the Hoop and Holler cut, which the flood report said was entirely defensible.

But, you know, Mr. Speaker, it's one thing to go out and try and stir up the very real frustrations and concerns people have, but you have two choices: one is you can go that route, or you can choose the route that we've gone. And what did we do? After the flood–and a flood in which we invested a–$1.2 billion–we put in place two studies, two task forces, both of which I have said publicly on behalf of our government, that we have adopted each and every one of the recommendations–126 in the case of the task force in terms of overall flood protection and water-related issues, and also in the case of Lake Manitoba.

And I can tell you what it all comes down to–earlier this week–you know, I know the member opposite, again, as part of his aim-high strategy, was taking shots at the member for the Interlake (Mr. Nevakshonoff). Well, I met with the member for Interlake and our Agriculture Minister with representatives of First Nations municipalities from around the flood affected areas, and I can tell you what they said, Mr. Speaker. They said that they recognized, obviously, a lot of the work that went into the flood, but they said, our concern is that we not be forgotten. Well, not only are they not forgotten–we not only adopted the recommendation of the reports to focus in on the billion-dollars-plus worth of potential ways to reducing flooding–we could have just said, well, we're going to look at it, we're going to–you know, see if we can afford it. We could have put in all sorts of qualifications–you might want to call them weasel words. You know, I–when I look at members opposite, I think of weasel words, because, you know, I don't see much commitment of–from them in terms of this. But what we did in our budget and what our Finance Minister did, was put in place the fiscal framework, put in 'flace'–place the fund that can fund the flood protection for those flood victims. That is leadership.

Now, I can talk a lot as well, and I will talk loudly, I know. But, you know, the Leader of the Opposition talked about–I loved it when he talked about action speaks louder than words, because nothing typifies that more than our investments in infrastructure, in particular investments in highways.

And I know the members opposite don't like talking about the '90s, but I can tell you–basically, Mr. Speaker, what you saw from the Leader of the Opposition is that this is the party of the '90s–I would say the economics of the 1990s and the social perspective of the 1890s; they are stuck in the past.

And it doesn't–shouldn't surprise you, I mean, the Leader of the Opposition is on record, I think–I don't know if he called Gary Filmon, you know, the greatest leader, but maybe, as part of the government, he was proud of their record and I think he's gone out of his way to see himself as the heir to Gary Filmon. Now, he was a minister–he was a minister, by the way, when they sold MTS.

But I–to use the phrase of our Finance Minister, who earlier said, that's a bit rich, well, nothing is more rich coming from the Leader of the Opposition, who was part of the Filmon government, talking about poverty. Mr. Speaker, the word P in PC doesn't stand for poverty reduction, believe you me. When they were in government, when they faced some of the uncertainty that they faced at that time, similar to the uncertainty we face today, what did they do for low-income Manitobans? They cut welfare rates. They even put in place the snitch line and they cut everything from friendship centres through to pretty well any agency you can imagine that works with many of the people affected. That was their first target–was the poor. Their second target was northern and Aboriginal people. They cut off roads. They shut down organizations.

So, when the Leader of the Opposition gets up and wrings his hands and claims some new-found interest in poverty in this province, I'll match our record on poverty against his record when he was part of the Filmon government any day. And I'll refer members to the budget, because our budget actually includes a whole section not only on what we've done in terms of poverty and social inclusion, but what this budget does–the increase in rent aid–probably one of the best examples–the increase in the minimum wage. Mr. Speaker, we went from the highest minimum wage in the country in the 1990s to one of the lowest. With the recent increase announced by our Finance Minister in the budget, we will have the highest level of minimum wage in the country. That is about poverty reduction too.

So–and I know the member opposite, he even got into talking about small business. I love PCs when they talk about small business, because I'll refer them to the budget, by the way, and they can find a little column¬–it's called the small business tax. And they can check every province across the country; there's only one that has a zero in that column–it's NDP Manitoba, no corporate tax on small businesses.

But, you know, if you read between the lines, you know, the member opposite, he was talking about a Pac-Man approach on health care. Well, first of all, that's a bit of a flashback. Pac-Man, I think a lot of video gamers in this province are probably checking Wikipedia right now and trying to figure out what that was, Mr. Speaker. You know what, that being having said, I'd suggest people check out what that really indicates, because did you notice how he took us to task for increasing the spending in health? I call it investment in health at a rate greater than the rate inflation. So what does that mean? Just–I just want to get this straight. The Leader of the Opposition basically said we're spending too much money on health care. Now, if that sounds familiar, by the way, I hate to take them back to the 1990s, that was their same philosophy then. That's what brought us Connie Curran, the efforts to privatize home care, patients in the hallway, frozen food. They haven't learned their lesson. It's an investment–an investment.

Now, I also was struck that–by the fact that members opposite–you know, what a difference 24 hours make. You know, I loved question period yesterday. I know our Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Kostyshyn) came in, and he said he was losing his voice. By the end of question period, I was probably losing my voice too. And we did a calculation, you know, overnight of what they were asking for, because I'm going to hold them accountable to this, Mr. Speaker. We calculated in one question period alone you could almost hear the ka-ching every time they stood up. It was spend, spend, spend. And, of course, today he comes in and he says, oh, the government has a spending problem. Well, I know it's been said that oppositions can have it both ways; they're trying to have it both ways. But, you know, you want to be in government, you can only have it one way.

We made the tough decisions. We made the dedication to infrastructure funding, and what's interesting is we're actually doing pretty well everything they asked for. The member for Brandon West, in particular, be careful what you ask for; you might get it. I'm looking forward to seeing him walking up and down Victoria Avenue as the construction takes place. I'm sure he's going to come into the House and probably complain that–too many construction delays, you know, given his approach, Mr. Speaker.

And I, you know, did bring a–Mr. Speaker, I know we're not supposed to have exhibits so I won't display it, but–my Yes Winkler! mug. Because, you know, the City of Winkler–the member opposite got up yesterday, said, well, there's big issues with Highway 32. Well, we said, yes, Winkler, when we paved the main street.

But we also announced today a new program that's going to provide funding to municipalities in terms of highway improvements within urban areas outside of the city of Winnipeg. Why? Because there's growth in Winkler and Morden, and there's growth in Steinbach.

So I wonder if the member opposite–be careful what ask for, you might get it–will actually vote for the budget based on that, Mr. Speaker?

You know, I mean, I refer members–you know, they might want to do a–I know that the member opposite, you know, who's in the Pac-Man era of computers, but, you know, he can–we can probably take his speech and search–despite the sort of suggestion there–come up with positive ideas. I didn't hear too many.

But Mr. Speaker, to search through in terms of some of the comments that were in his speech, they're actually really reflect what they really stand for, because you know, the bottom line is, check what their petitions say. Check what their questions say.

I mean, what was great about question period yesterday, apart from the spending theme, you know, the theme of their petitions and their questions was, we're growing; we have all these needs. Well, Mr. Speaker, where have they been since 1999? I mean, what planet are they living on?

We, Mr. Speaker have had the second highest rate of growth of any province in GDP over the last five years, and we're aiming for No. 1. And why, Mr. Speaker, have we done better than virtually every other province? Why have we got one of the lowest rates of unemployment? It's because of our balanced approach. There are a lot of provinces across the country, the first thing they've done is reacted to kind of difficult circumstances they've dealt–we've been dealing with, first thing they did, I'll tell you what they did, they cut health care.

Let's talk about education. You know, we are investing more money in education than any other province in the country–highest increases in terms of public school funding, I think pretty well the highest increases in terms of post-secondary funding. And you know, you always want it to be more. But tell the people of Alberta about funding for post-secondary education; a 7 per cent cut. They've got university–we have universities across the country facing 18 per cent cuts. And why are we doing it? Well, it's the right thing to do.

I can tell you, our teachers remember the days of the 1990s, you know, the member for Gimli (Mr. Bjornson) was a teacher then. It was, you know, like the CNN weather map, right? Like, you know, zero, minus two, minus two. That was the funding level.

In the middle of an economic crisis, we're investing in education. We're reducing class sizes. And I–you know, I know the member opposite even mentioned seniors–and we're getting rid of the tax, the school tax for seniors in this province, something they never did.

So how do you pull together all the themes of this budget? I really believe by the way–yes, it's about some tough decisions. But, you know, we're backing up some of those tough decisions. Yes, the one cent on the sales tax, time-restricted, ten years, going straight into this fund, ensuring we can match any federal infrastructure funding, there for flood victims, there for infrastructure, and not just highways–for our hospitals, for our schools, Mr. Speaker.

But how would you classify this? In many ways, it's a growth budget because if there's two key elements that you need for growth–one is you have to invest in infrastructure. And that's what we're doing. The second is you have to invest in your human potential. So that's why we're investing in education and training.

I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, to members opposite, that they look at what's happening around the province. Because despite some of the most challenging circumstances, even in the last 48 hours, we've seen the wisdom of the kind of tough choices we've had to make in this budget, the stock market dropping dramatically, warnings from the Bank of Canada that the growth rate across the country is slowing down, and indications that around the world, that once-stable economies are becoming increasingly unstable.

Now, we could have gone back to the 1990s. Been there, done that, Mr. Speaker. Didn't work then, won't work now.

But what you can do is what our Finance Minister brought forward in the way of the budget yesterday. And, you know, I really have a tough time getting lectures from members opposite about our budget circumstances, or even about the balanced budget bill, or about fiscal targets, because, let's be very clear, by the way, that in the last election, they ran on a platform of opening up the balanced budget legislation so that we would not have a balance on our books until 2018. I mean, it was convenient, actually, because their target was so far out it would have taken them out a full election.

Now, does anybody doubt that–God forbid they had been elected–that they might have been pushing it out 2019, 2020, 2021? I mean, they have no credibility whatsoever when they talk about the balanced budget bill or when they talk about fiscal balance. They ran on a promise of, basically, not in the foreseeable future ever bringing us back into balance. And what we've done, as every jurisdiction across the country has done, we've moved prudently. Yes, we've recognized some of the changing circumstances, but we're still committed to bringing our books back within balance, no thanks to members opposite, Mr. Speaker. Because that's what this budget does.

And I want to stress one thing. I–when I talk to people in my constituency, as we all do, we know that anything and everything you do has an impact. And I know that this budget will have an impact; it always does. And it does mix in, you know, a number of revenue items: yes, the sales tax, the one cent, and I think we've demonstrated what we're going to be able to do with that one cent. There's some breaks as well, particularly targeted for seniors. I think that's positive.

But I can tell you one thing, Mr. Speaker. The governments that have led this province, that have the most significant difference, have really been governments that have undertaken one thing: to show leadership in tough times and to have a long-term perspective.

I mentioned the Roblin government. You know, I'm not a Conservative, but I have a lot of respect for Duff Roblin for what he did. I'll mention the Schreyer government, the work it did to build this province, particularly our hydro development–[interjection]–but, yes, the Pawley government. Again, Limestone, a lot of work that was done throughout the province.

And members opposite didn't have a chance. Did you notice at the end, towards the end of the speech the Leader of the Opposition was saying he's going to come up with positive suggestions? You know, I kind of heard the motion. I didn't see any of them in the motion. I'll be waiting. I suspect, by the way, that they're going–they're right now going through their files from the 1990s and, you know, they'll probably get their–actually, I was going to say Xerox machine, but after the Leader of the Opposition's speech, probably the Gestetner machine out and make copies.

But, anyway, I digress; the bottom line is he had an opportunity, particularly on the hydro issue, to take a different approach. He could have said, you know, Sterling Lyon was wrong on hydro development. He could have said Gary Filmon was wrong hydro development. He could have said, you know, if you have customers who are willing to buy it, you know, that makes sense. But what I noticed, by the way, we managed to turn around, he actually admitted we have customers, but he says it's a bad thing.

Well, let me tell you, Mr. Speaker, why? I mean, the absurdity the Conservative position on hydro is that they actually got to the point in the 1980s where instead of building Limestone, you know what they proposed? Importing power from the US. If we'd listened to them in the 1980s, right now we wouldn't be exporting power to the US; we'd be buying it. That is how short-sighted they are. And I realize there's a certain amount of jealousy that, perhaps, goes with the fact that we have a reputation for building hydro. Quite frankly, I think if there's one thing that defines us as a government, we're a building government. It's not just hydro.

You know, here's another trick question. Name me one thing the Tories built in the 1990s. Okay, well, even they don't have an answer to that one, Mr. Speaker.

The reality is I talked about hydro, but, you know, I can talk about the True North centre. They opposed that one, by the way. I could talk about the stadium that we're building, the Blue Bombers be open this season, Mr. Speaker. I'm sure they'll be there with their beer and popcorn cheering the Bombers on. I wonder if they'll give us any credit for it.

I can point to the hospitals, the schools that we built throughout this province, the roads, and including expanding all-weather road access in northern Manitoba, Mr. Speaker. You know, I've apologized already again this year for delays, construction delays on our highways because we're going to have a lot of them. But that is what distinguishes us from the Tories.

I mentioned before that PC didn't stand for poverty reduction. Well, it doesn't stand for construction either. The party that's building this province is the New Democratic Party, Mr. Speaker. This budget is making sure that we can continue that, especially for the flood victims, but for all of our communities.

And I will say, Mr. Speaker, yes there are some tough decisions, but, you know, how you show leadership? You undertake those tough decisions. You get out, as we will, throughout this province. You sell those tough decisions, and what you do is you don't just focus in on the latest opinion polls. You don't just focus in on the next week or two or three. What you do is you focus in on the next decade, because my message to members opposite–and this is the message, I think, from all of our caucus–you know, if you were to consider how far we've come in the last 10 years, the growth in this province that we're all so proud of–really, I always like quoting my favourite Manitoban, Randy Bachman, because what this budget says, it says if you are willing to make the right decisions, the tough decisions, and invest in the long-term future of this province, if you've seen a lot in this province the last decade, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.