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, MLA Fort Richmond
April 18, 2013

Response to the Budget

I am very pleased to stand up and put some more energy into this room, and to thank the people of Fort Richmond for allowing me this opportunity to represent them and to stand in support of this budget.

Since 1999 we have strategically built the level of services. We've improved them: health care, education, family services, and created thousands of opportunities for all Manitobans. As well, we opened our doors and welcomed many new Canadians to this great province where they are providing us with many gifts as well.

We have a story to tell in every region, in every constituency of Manitoba: improved health-care services; education opportunities; post-secondary opportunities at our colleges and universities; housing development; recreation development; better highways and bridges; as well as our crown jewel, the Hydro developments that have happened.

What does that mean? That means healthy, safe communities where families are thriving. This has happened in partnership with the individual families as well as with other levels of government and the non-profit organizations in the communities that represent them.

I will not tell you that this has been an easy decision, this budget, as we worked together as a team, as a strong team talking about what our options were. The global uncertainty as well as the risk of another flood, the third in five years creates us with this interest of what are we going to do so we can continue to build this great province and continue to follow on our record.

So what we've done in Budget 2013 is provided better health care by hiring more doctors and nurse practitioners and other health professionals and expanding life-saving STARS helicopter ambulance to 24-hour service, seven days a week; creating more opportunities by creating new partnership apprenticeship opportunities and endorsing new training and skills development strategies; and keeping Manitoba among the most affordable places to live by improving the basic personal, spousal and dependent exemptions and removing the PST from baby essentials and taking steps to eliminate school taxes paid by seniors on their homes.

As we made these tough decisions, we considered the importance of taking a balanced approach making sure that we did not make those deep, deep cuts that were going to cause a disruption in service and also ensure that we were able to provide those supports for what matters most to families. We made sure that when we did make reductions that the reductions that we made they went directly to the front-line services, and we are going to continue to do that.

I know that as we proceed through these difficult times together that it's not going to be easy, but I know Manitobans. We come together and we take on the challenges that are presented, and we will succeed. I am very, very confident of that.

I'd like to focus my conversation on what we've done. There's been lots of talk from across the House about poverty. I welcome the conversation; I welcome the debate. It's really passing strange this recent interest of theirs on poverty. It's important that we all stand up for all Manitobans and I'm glad that they want to participate in that debate this year.

I can tell you that this has not just ended up on our agenda, this has been part of our strategy as a government since 1999, when we were first elected. I can point to a billion dollars' worth of expenditures that we've made to better support individuals and families living in poverty.

I'm not here saying that we have resolved all issues; we have a lot more work to do. But I am very confident that as we proceed that we will be able to make a difference, to continue to better support families, ensuring that they have affordable housing to live in, making sure that they have healthy communities to work, to learn and to play in. And as we move forward, we have some specific things that we have developed as a comprehensive plan to support people living in poverty.

We share all the concerns of the advocates and the importance placed on the issues of poverty and social inclusion, and that's why we have the ALL Aboard committee of Cabinet, as well as why we have the legislation that we have. So we are going to continue to work with all of our partners and make a difference.

The most important difference that we are going to make is the increase in social and affordable housing. We have committed $114.3 million for 500 new social housing units and $25 million for 500 affordable housing units over the next three years.

And I can tell you that in the past four years we have built almost 1,300 units across this province. And I know that people will say, what did they build when they were in government? And I know that that question was presented yesterday and there was dead silence. I can tell you that not a lot of housing was built. But I can tell you, under this government we have built housing projects for seniors, for families, for Aboriginal people, for individuals that are dealing with mental health issues across this province. And on that side of the House we've built in Steinbach, Portage la Prairie, McCreary, Oakbank, Virden, Neepawa, Brandon, but we've also built in Winnipeg, in The Pas, in Selkirk and Swan River and Dauphin, and we will continue to do that, to provide those essential services across the province.

We know that housing is a key component to our economy. It provides local jobs, local hiring policies, and we can also use it as part of our training and employment strategy. We have a great partnership with ETT, and as we work together we are training hundreds of individuals, some of them who've never had an opportunity to be employed before. And one of the greatest successes that we can point to over the last year were 35 individuals, men and women, who've worked as part of our community forces across the province, being hired the private sector–now that is success. That's 35 families which will multiply when you think about their families as well as their community; it will touch hundreds of people.

So we are going to continue with our commitment of building affordable housing, but we're going to go beyond that. We are going to continue to redevelop and restore our existing housing, so our government is going to make a commitment of $134 million annually to the renovation of properties that we already own.

And, again, we will be providing these services across the province and making sure that we are investing in our existing housing stock so that people can proud of where they live. And, again, we will be using a local hiring strategy as well as a training strategy, and making a difference.

I think I've told this House on a number on occasions the success that we have experienced at Lord Selkirk Park, when we redeveloped that with the community forces and the individuals who chose their homes based on who redeveloped their units. They wanted to live in the units that their neighbours built, and that we're going to continue to do.

There will be a tax credit for the development of rental housing, and this is a really interesting exercise that we went through as a government. We know that there is a shortage of housing across this province. So what we did is we brought together the housing advocates as well as the private sector and had a conversation and said, please give us some solutions about what we can do differently to start investing in affordable housing. We had some very interesting conversations as we proceeded through the dialogue, but at the end of the day we were able to agree on 22 recommendations and one of those recommendations was the tax credit for PST. So developers now, when they build, they will be saving millions of dollars across this province to ensure that they're building affordable housing.

What we're also going to do is 10 per cent of that affordable housing will be rent geared to income and that, too, will provide important housing options for individuals. We've also have gone and had developed some improved rent regulations to ensure that tenants have rights and they know their responsibilities. But also looking to ensure that landlords know what their responsibilities are to provide good quality housing.

Then we have the shelter benefit and the RentAid, and there's been lots of debate about how we support people in paying for rent. I really, strongly believe in a comprehensive package that includes shelter benefits like RentAid, but also include employment and education as well as building our own housing. The extra $240 a year that families are going to be getting is going to make a difference. We are also going to look at how to improve the application process. How do we make it easier for people to apply? We also are going to have funding for people that are transitioning into work and they will receive $110 per month as they're moving from social assistance into the workforce.

We also have the seniors' education property tax credit, which we know across the province people are asking and people are celebrating about and looking forward to this being implemented. We’ve increased the basic income tax exemption to $250. That is going to move an additional 5,500 people off the tax roll.

The best way for people to move from poverty is education and employment, and that's why I'm very proud to see our government continue to support education initiatives for young students, but also its supporting our post-secondary education.

I heard across the way a criticism. Well, there are other jurisdictions that are reducing the amount of funding that they're putting into post-secondary. Well, we increased it and we will continue to work with our partners to do that.

We should talk a bit about what happened. Those were the choices that we made as a government. What were the choices that happened the last time the province felt this uncertainty? What did the PCs choose to do? Well, they aggressively cut a $150 a month of benefits for the people that needed it the most. They developed policies such as workfare and a snitch line. They clawed back the National Child Benefit. That's what they did to support people living in poverty. I would much rather see us supporting what I have presented and what our government has presented. That's how we're going to build this province, by working with everyone and ensuring that opportunities are across the province.

There's been lots of talk about the increase of PST and what that means for people living in poverty. What that means is that we will be able to ensure that we will be investing in infrastructure, whether it's flood-related infrastructure, whether it's highways and bridges, recreation centres, hospitals or schools. And I see that as an economic driver; I see that, again, as an opportunity to support individuals with training and education opportunities as we provide those services to families.

So I'm here to say, support this budget. This is a good budget in a very uncertain time. I would much rather make the choices we've made than the choices that we've seen from the other side in the past. This is about opportunities, economic growth and building the future for Manitoba.

Thank you.