Statement Banner

Andrew Swan, MLA Minto
April 19, 2013

Budget Response

It's a pleasure to stand and speak about Budget 2013, and, indeed, I'll make sure there is no suspense; I will be supporting Budget 2013. I'll be supporting the work of this Finance Minister and I'll be supporting investing in the things that matter most to Manitobans.

And, Mr. Speaker, I can say I'm proud to do that on behalf of the families, the individuals who elected me to stand and represent them in this Legislature. And I'm proud to be part of a government that continues to build, that continues to invest in our province in uncertain economic times.

And, certainly, Mr. Speaker, as I'll talk about in my time today, different governments across Canada are making some different decisions. Different governments in Manitoba's past have made different decisions. We're making the right decisions for Manitobans, and Budget 2013 is part of that.

And the debate, Mr. Speaker, is helpful. The debate we certainly welcome in this House and elsewhere in Manitoba because it sets apart those in the New Democratic Party, who are builders, who want to build a stronger province, and those in the Progressive Conservative Party, who at best are mothballers, who, at their worst, are cutters, are slashers. And, of course, what's left of the Liberal Party, which just doesn't really know where it's going, as we have the Leader of the Liberal Party who one day cries crocodile tears for the poor, yet the next day will say he's opposed to reasonable increases in the minimum wage for low-income Manitobans.

Now, the Minister of Finance articulated a very clear and a very understandable plan. There's an argument as to how we'll continue to build our province in uncertain times.

And of course, the statement of a government and its priorities are set out in the budget; and indeed, it was an excellent budget speech. And I know my friends weren't listening. My Conservative friends were not listening when the Minister of Finance presented the budget. The handy part is they can actually get it, even if they don't want to read it, and if it's too tough for them to read, there's lots of great little charts and graphs that really explain where Manitoba is going and why we're making the important choices that we're making.

And I know the Minister of Finance listened very closely to people from all over this province. He listened to people who aren't always on side with our government. He listened to those all across the province who said, you know, Minister of Finance, you need to make sure that your government continues to invest in infrastructure. Yes, in terms of flood protection, because we saw a major flood in 2009, a major flood in 2011 and, unfortunately, living in Manitoba, we are gearing up again for another flood in 2013.

But it's not just flood preparation, a point which has, again, has eluded the Progressive Conservatives. It's about investing in all kinds of infrastructure–in our roads and highways, in bridges, in schools and recreation centres, in important facilities and amenities across this province. And the Minister of Finance listened to people who don't always agree with what our government's doing, who called on this minister to raise the PST and allocate the money to building things that are important to Manitobans.

And he listened to people all over the province who also told him they were concerned about protecting the services that matter to them–protecting their health care services, protecting our education system, protecting our social services, ensuring public safety, protecting all the things that people in neighbourhoods like mine and yours are interested in and care deeply about, and count on their government to look after.

And Mr. Speaker, there's no question. We've been very open about this. No government looks forward to coming in and raising revenue. We don't look forward to raising the provincial sales tax. But it's something that we're doing because we're not going to cut services, we're not going to leave Manitobans out in the cold. We're going to continue building a stronger province.

You know, we look across the country at what other provinces are doing in these challenging economic times. Of course, there's only one province in the entire country that's brought in a surplus budget this year. And that would be Darrell Dexter and New Democrats in the province of Nova Scotia.

Now, Saskatchewan tells us that they've got a surplus. Saskatchewan tells us that there is a surplus, but, of course, just as they can't tell time like the rest of Canadians, they don't present their budget papers like the rest of Canadians. And, in fact, Saskatchewan, even after themselves having to go out and raise revenues from their population, has a deficit.

And what about those poor people in Alberta? The Province of Alberta is bringing in a deficit, which is now pushing $2 billion at the same time as they are slashing services. They are cutting things that are important to Albertans. We're not going that route, Mr. Speaker. We're protecting things for Manitobans.

Now, of course, you've heard the very capable explanation of the Minister of Finance as to why the PST hike is necessary. I'm sure that the opposition members are aware that the federal government has announced an infrastructure program. The federal government is expecting the Province of Manitoba to match their investments dollar for dollar. And we aren't going to leave that federal money, which, we think, is useful, on the table, which is why we've announced we'll be having a PST hike for 10 years in order to parallel the length of that federal infrastructure program to make sure we don't leave money on the table.

And I hear some members of the Progressive Conservative caucus now chattering. If they believe the Province of Manitoba should leave federal cash on the table, they should stand up in this House and they should say so, because, Mr. Speaker, I don't think even the Progressive Conservative members would think that was a good idea. Certainly, our Minister of Finance doesn't think it's a good idea. Our government doesn't think it's a good idea, which is why we'll be investing infrastructure.

Now, different choices could be made. I suppose you could match this infrastructure program and then cut hundreds of millions of dollars out of the other services that are important to Manitobans. And, you know, we've seen that happen. And it's very interesting that the loudest member chirping on the other side is the member from River East who was the Family Services minister in the 1990s. My wife was a social worker and she had to live through the cuts that the member for River East imposed on the most disenfranchised people in Manitoba. So, if she doesn't think that we should be spending on services, if she doesn't think we should be investing, then let her stand in her place and tell us that. We'll be interested to hear what the member for River East has to say.

Now, we have said we will not cut services to people, and what are those services? Well, more than 40 per cent of our budget goes to health care. Some of that is equipment. Some of that is the infrastructure. Some of it is drugs, but mainly the investments in our health-care system.

Of course, nearly 40 per cent or over 40 per cent of our budget goes to health care. It's people helping people providing health care when they need it across the province of Manitoba.

Another quarter of the budget is our education system and, yes, there's investments in schools, investments in infrastructure, investments in technical vocational equipment. But, by and large, those investments are made in teachers, in teachers and paraprofessionals in our classrooms preparing our young people to meet the challenges they're going to face in the real world.

About 10 per cent of the budget is Family Services, helping those in our society who have the biggest challenges and, again, the great majority of that spending is real people helping real people.

And, of course, everything else including Justice, which is only about 4 per cent of the budget, is about providing safety to people who live in communities like mine and other communities across the province.

And, you know, when the opposition stood up and said they didn't like the increase in the PST, we challenged them and said, well, what is your plan? And we didn't really think that they were going to put their plan on the record, but, frankly, Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased they did because it allows Manitobans to compare and contrast the approach between the mean, cutting Conservatives and the visionary, investing New Democrats.

And just yesterday morning after telling Manitobans that they should expect tough love, the Leader of the Opposition sent out a press release which gave Manitobans a little hint of his vision of Manitoba. And he announced that, if he had the opportunity to bring down a budget, he would cut $287 million from the budget and he also had another $265 million in additional cuts he didn't even really specify, which means taking $550 million in investment out of the things that Manitobans count on.

And now, of course, now when we've put that back to the opposition, they've started trying to spin and get out from under their own press release. They say, don't look back in the past. They actually mean yesterday morning. It's quite incredible, Mr. Speaker.

We know that the vision of Leader of the Opposition because we've seen his version of tough love before when he was sitting around the Cabinet table when the Filmon government, which he calls one of the finest governments Manitoba's been blessed with. Well, this was a government that froze health-care spending. This was a government that laid off 700 teachers, politicized an entire generation of teachers. And, on the one hand, I'm happy about that because we've got so many great teachers that have joined our caucus. On the other hand, the opportunity cost, the loss of excellence in education that our young people suffered in the '90s is something we never, ever want to go back to.

The Filmon government fired a thousand nurses, cut those people out of our health-care system. And even when they stand up every day and talk about roads and bridges, the Filmon government reduced funding for bridges and highways no fewer than five times, and put the brakes on infrastructure spending.

And what would this opposition leader actually do if he ever had the chance to get his hands on the books of the Province? Well, the first thing he said is he'd cut every government department by 1 per cent. Easy thing to say; what does that actually mean?

Well, in health care, for example, that would mean the cut of $52 million. That's equal to 700 nurses. Imagine 700 fewer nurses than we have today, providing vital health-care services to Manitobans. I suppose the Leader of the Opposition can; certainly, as New Democrats, we don't.

And, of course, as Justice Minister, he would cut $5 million out of the Justice budget. That's about 60 corrections officers. We know what happened when he was sitting around the Cabinet table when there was a government that didn't invest in corrections officers, that didn't ensure the safety both of inmates but also people working in our correctional facilities.

The member for Fort Whyte, the opposition leader, would cut $16 million from the Education budget. That would be cutting 200 teachers out of our classrooms. I'm very proud, Mr. Speaker, that we're investing in making classroom sizes smaller for our kindergarten to grade 3 students. We've got a Progressive Conservative Party that would believe in making classroom sizes larger, if you even had programming in your schools.

They would also cut $11 million from the Family Services budget. That's equal to 135 social workers out there in the field, protecting the most vulnerable people in our province.

And what else did the Leader of the Opposition say? Well, he and his spinners sat down and they invented or came up with a term I really haven't heard before. They're calling it a hiring chill. Well, the Progressive Conservatives would have a hiring chill for the civil service and, of course, what he wants to do is to remove 1,000 civil servants from the Province. And he calls them civil servants, and he does that for a reason, because he doesn't want to tell you who those people are and what they do. Who are the civil servants that wouldn't be hired–the positions that'd be lost? Well, they'd be flood forecasters, they'd be public health nurses, they'd be doctors, they'd be social workers, they'd be corrections officers, they'd be highway workers. There'd be positions sitting open if the Progressive Conservative Party ever had the chance to run this province again.

And you know, I guess all I can say to the Leader of the Opposition is: The '90s are calling, they want their policies back.

I had a lot of chances, as I always do, to speak to young people and people across the West End, and in my response to the Speech from the Throne, I was able to speak pretty much the entire time I was allotted about young people and what's important to them.

On Wednesday at lunchtime, I had the chance to meet with a group of young people from Tec Voc High School, which happens to be the alma mater for the Minister of Children and Youth Opportunities. And I told them they were going to go in and watch question period, and it was going to be one of the most interesting question periods of the year, as QP after the budget comes down always is, and I talked to them about some of the choices that our government had made. And I told them the opposition will be all over the fact that we're going to be raising revenue by increasing the provincial sales tax. And we talked about that, and I told them what that would mean. It means if I go for the lunch special at Spring Roll Restaurant, two blocks away from Tec Voc, where those students eat as well, yes, that'll mean a 6-cent increase in the cost of my lunch special.

What are those students–what am I getting for that additional 6 cents? Well, for those students, they know that they're living in a province that has a minimum wage that continues to go up each and every year. And of the students that were coming to visit me, I asked them how many of them had part-time jobs. Well, the students that go to Tec Voc come from the West End; they come from across the Winnipeg School Division. Many of them do have jobs to help support themselves, to perhaps support their families. Perhaps their families would even send money back home to help out with their expenses.

And I told them that we believed raising the minimum wage every year, helping them, was the right thing to do, and I told them that the minimum wage would be going up from $10.25 to $10.45 making Manitoba the highest minimum wage in the country. And I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, those students at Tec Voc are very appreciative of a government that believes that they should have every opportunity to get ahead. I talked with the students of Tec Voc with investments and education, and I can tell you last year in 2012 there were more grads walking across the stage at Duckworth Centre wearing their lovely green gowns graduating from Tec Voc than anybody could ever remember being the case.

Those young people at Tec Voc know that with this government's investments, with this Minister of Education's attention and passion for education, they've got the greatest opportunity of getting ahead. And, Mr. Speaker, we know the students coming out of Tec Voc, many of them are in technical-vocational areas. They know that there are more apprenticeship opportunities than have ever been there before. But it didn't happen by accident. That happened because of careful, thoughtful investments by this government each and every year so that when they come out of Tec Voc High School they are going to get great jobs. They're going to start earning the first day they show up on the job site. And what about those students at Tec Voc who want to go on to university or college? Well, I'm proud to tell them that we've got the third lowest university tuition in the entire country, the second lowest college tuition in the country without even taking into account when they get their diplomas or they get their degrees and they stay in Manitoba we're going to give them back a further rebate of 60 per cent of all the tuition that they've paid.

And that may not matter to members across the way, Progressive Conservative members who have got a very different view of this province. But I'll tell you if you're on Spruce Street or you're on Dominion Street or you're on Erin Street those are important investments. Those are things that are important to real people who want to build their future here in Manitoba, and that's why our government is standing up for them.

And, you know, Mr. Speaker, I do know young people at Tec Voc, young people at DMCI, they're very excited when they can go to get their driver's licence. In fact, sometimes they get in their own cars, more likely they're borrowing their parent's cars or their brother's cars. And, you know, I'm always happy as the MPI Minister to go out and talk about auto insurance and what it's like in other provinces. Members of the opposition–they had their chance at the MPI committee. They asked questions for two hours or so. They didn't really want to get into the comparisons with other provinces because it's not very convenient.

And I guess this is hitting home for me given that I've got a daughter who's only 10 months away from being able to get her beginner's licence. I look around this Chamber and I see–not just on this side of the House, but on the other side as well–members who have young people in their house who are getting their beginner's licences who are driving. And I look at the difference in the cost of auto insurance in Manitoba and some other provinces. The same insurance having a young person in their house, the same insurance that costs about $1,200 in Manitoba, Mr. Speaker, that insurance would cost $3,000 for a family living in Calgary. That same insurance would cost $7,000 for a family living in Toronto. If you're a young person living in a place with private auto insurance you can forget about driving or else you'd better come from the kind of family that has a seven-car garage or else you're likely not going to be driving.

And last election campaign, who was their star candidate? They'd knock on their tables and they were calling across during question period and debates in Legislature. What did their star candidate say? He thought that privatizing MPI was a good idea. And did the former leader, my old friend, Hugh McFadyen, did he say it wouldn't be a good idea having that candidate running? Did he say, no, that candidate's wrong? No, he didn't. He just stepped aside and let it all happen. And how did it work out for that star candidate? What was his comment election night? This was worse than our worst-case scenarios. Well, that really sums up a lot of things on the Tory side of the way. I'll tell you what, Mr. Speaker, for Manitobans, getting rid of Manitoba Public Insurance and getting rid of the protections of having public auto insurance would be worse than the worst-case scenarios for so many young people and so many working families across this province.

And, you know, there's a lot of other things that I would love to talk about. I could talk about justice, but there's nothing in the response in the opposition about justice. I listened to the member for Brandon West, who's the critic for Justice. I didn't hear a word about public safety in his half-hour speech. So we'll have that debate and those discussions another day, I'm sure.

The most important thing, Mr. Speaker, in conclusion, is that there truly are some differences in opinion, and that's healthy. That's why we come into the Legislature and we debate. It's a difference in vision between those who are going back to the way it used to be: those who would impose cuts, who would send nurses fleeing from the jurisdiction, who would have teachers finding other things to do, who would freeze spending, who would let this province begin to tatter and fray around the edges and send our young people, like the young people at Tec Voc, elsewhere.

You know, there's another vision, the vision that the Minister of Finance put forward on behalf of all Manitobans on budget day, a vision of continuing to grow this province, of making tough choices but the right choices to continue to make this province stronger and better and greater and provide opportunities for young people.

So, Mr. Speaker, I know, in a few days, every member of this House will get their chance to stand in their place. I'll be standing in support of Manitobans; I'll be standing in support of Budget 2013. Thank you.