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, MLA St. James
April 25, 2013

Response to the Budget

Mr. Deputy Speaker, listening to the members opposite discuss the budget and our vision for Manitoba over the past week has reminded me of a family story. It's a true story about having a vision, making difficult choices, yet holding firm despite withstanding intense criticism. I'm aware this may be a little unconventional, but I'm going to tell that story. I promise I will bring it back to the budget.

A long, long time ago, two brothers arrived in Canada by boat from England to work as surveyors. One of these brothers was my great-great-great-grandfather, David, and after working for some time, he decided to settle down in a small village called Oxenden. Oxenden is a beautiful hillside, waterfront village that has been called home by seven generations of my family. In fact, my brother and his family currently live in the original house that David built.

Beside the property that David purchased for this home, he also bought a piece of land along the shoreline and built a sawmill. He powered the mill by harnessing the current of the nearby river. The sawmill provided wood to the village and surrounding communities for homes, barns, businesses and public buildings that were being built as these communities began to grow.

Oxenden wasn't a large community, but there was a general store and a post office, a school and a blacksmith shop along with David's sawmill. It was a moderately successful business and he felt invested in the community. He met and married an Irish immigrant named Jane and soon they had a young family.

Around this time, the village was about to embark on the building of their church. There wasn't much money to put into it, and to make the money that had been raised go farther, David donated the lumber for the church structure and the pews. The building was constructed, the pews installed and the community, including my ancestors, began to attend regular church services in their brand new building.

Now, David was ambitious. Like many immigrants, he came with a desire to not just exist but to create a life in this country, and he wanted to thrive and excel, just as immigrants who come to Manitoba do now. He noticed that frequently there were travellers who passed through the village, as it was a midway point between several other communities and a small city nearby, but they had nowhere to stay. And remember, in those days, you either walked to your destination or were transported by horse and buggy as there wasn't even rail at this point in the area, and almost all goods travelled by steamship from small port to port.

He recognized that there was an opportunity to create something in the community that would draw more people, more interest and possibly more industry to it. He decided to build a hotel and he was going to equip that hotel with a room designated to imbibing alcohol–in short, a bar. Well, David got to work hiring carpenters and other skilled tradespeople to build the hotel, there was growing concern by some in the community about the fact that the hotel was going to serve alcohol. There were those who understood his concept and there were others who were completely against his vision despite knowing that there would be many other benefits to having this hotel in the community, much like members opposite are losing sight of the many benefits within this budget.

But David was not discouraged and the hotel, when completed, was opened and drew customers right away. Those in the community who took umbrage with the selling of liquor made their feelings known, and on the Sunday after the hotel opened, David, Jane and their children attended church as they always did. They walked through its doors and across the floor boards that were milled at their sawmill and sat in the pews that were built from the wood donated by David and Jane, and took their place. Immediately, one or two families sitting nearby stood up and moved away, refusing to sit near them. David, Jane and their children sat alone as the church service began, but it actually got worse because shortly after the minister of the church began his sermon, he singled David out from the pulpit, spoke to him directly in front of the entire congregation and condemned him for selling liquor.

And in my mind I have a vision of what I often see in this Chamber, which is a lot of this going on. This is one of the few instances where the stubborn streak that runs in my family could be viewed as a positive attribute because even this public shunning didn't deter him.

Time passed, traffic did increase through the village and soon Oxenden had other businesses that opened to supply greater services to the community and to take advantage of the increased traffic that the hotel brought: a tailor shop, a shoe store, a telegraph office and a flour and feed mill, to name a few. As well, during the winter months when the bay froze over, the communities on the other side of the bay and further up the peninsula would use the hotel as a delivery point for necessary goods that would be transported back and forth on Mother Nature's icy winter route.

The community did come to accept the hotel and that it served liquor. And, ultimately, his vision was a benefit to the community and enhanced the hard work that others were also doing in the village, and many eventually recognized it. However, it didn't come quickly and it certainly didn't come easily. But his determination to proceed in the face of opposition was the right thing to do for the community even though it carried with it a kind of stigma for some time to come for both David and his family, and that was a burden he was willing to bear for the sake of doing something he knew would bring greater prosperity to the village.

This bit of family history reminds me of the present. Just as David believed in his vision enough to take a bold step forward, our Premier and our government are also taking a bold step. And often when we make choices based on a vision that not everyone can yet see, boldness is demanded. We must be prepared to withstand the criticism that comes our way until the proof that our vision is sound is apparent to those who are stuck looking at only one piece of the picture. So it is with our government and this budget.

The specific challenges that we are facing are unique to Manitoba. Anyone who denies the impact that two, possibly now three, floods in five years has had on the financial challenges that our province faces, is being disingenuous. With the recent release of the Flood Review Task Force report which recommended we make 126 changes to be better prepared for future floods, we are faced with either making those changes now, before more flood damage affects Manitobans in future flood seasons or we tell all of the people who are regularly affected by these floods that they will have to wait. There is urgency to implementing these recommendations as homes, farms and business are better protected by the necessary changes that we can make now, there will be fewer people in need of compensation in the future. Investing in these preventative measures now will reduce in future the kinds of debilitating expenses associated with flooding that are currently affecting us. We may be facing these kind of flood scenarios more regularly as time passes, so the longer we wait to implement the changes, the more people will be affected and most certainly the more expensive it becomes for all Manitobans as we continue to make payouts for flood-affected citizens of this province.

In order to be able to implement these changes, we all, as Manitobans, will need to pitch in, but it will ultimately benefit all of us. If we move quickly we can begin to make those changes in the coming construction season so that next spring we are less likely to be threatened by flood waters and the expenses that always come with them. This is work that will be undertaken by Manitobans, thus creating more employment opportunities for those in the trades or those entering the trades. And as we improve infrastructure against flooding we also must look to other infrastructure issues that Manitobans have told us they wish to see addressed.

When canvassing in my constituency, there is one complaint that I hear no matter which end of St. James I'm in, and it is in the conditions of the roads. We are doubling our funding for residential road renewal in Winnipeg as part of our historical increases in funding to the city. As infrastructure demands mount, how can we not find a way to further increase our investments when people regularly voice their frustration over the lack of upgrades? This is something that effects all of us regardless of what part of Manitoba you may live in and it is why we are investing province-wide in improving our infrastructure.

By investing in our Manitoba Building and Renewal Plan through a time-limited PST increase that will expire in 10 years, we are working together to make sure Manitobans have better flood protection and ensuring the improvement necessary for provincial roadways and infrastructure as they are going to be renewed. This increase would not affect items such as essential baby supplies on which we are eliminating the PST. And for those who say our taxes are too high under this government, I remind them of this: our balanced approach has reduced the taxes that Manitobans pay by nearly $1.4 billion since 1999.

We also are improving the basic personal income tax exemption by $250 this year and another $250 next year which is higher than inflation and will benefit all taxpayers. There will be an increase in the spousal and dependent exemptions by $250 and we are ensuring that seniors will no longer be paying the education tax by 2015.

While there are some who are upset about increasing revenues to pay for infrastructure, this will be a benefit to all Manitobans in the face of adversity by allowing us to combat future flood impacts and renew infrastructure in the province. Part of our vision for Manitoba is making sure that we work to maintain to the many good services available to its citizens and find ways to move forward and to continue to grow by investing, not cutting, to make Manitoba stronger and more independent. This is something that we must all do together, even more so when times are tough.

Sadly, buried under the lightning rod of this aspect of the budget lay some really wonderful opportunities for Manitobans in the coming year's provincial plan. I'm especially proud of the work that this government is doing for those on assistance. While we increased the RentAid package by $240, what many have not yet recognized is that there are other key pieces to the housing package. We are not just increasing RentAid, but are building more affordable housing for those on assistance. We are also focused on helping people on assistance transition to independence. We have introduced a RentAid transition bonus which provides $110 per month for up to two years for EIA recipients transitioning into training or employment, who would otherwise be ineligible for RentAid.

We have also introduced the Portable Housing Benefit, a monthly rent supplement of up to $200 to EIA participants with mental health issues. This government believes in encouraging people to make their way to independence and self-sufficiency and finding them practical ways to support them as they do this.

Some have suggested that we must cut. I am sure that if we were to do that, the moment those critics experienced first-hand the inconvenience of not having that service when they need it, they would be the first people to criticize us for cancelling that program or cutting that job. We are raising the PST to be able to invest in critical infrastructure, but still maintain the most important elements of daily life to Manitoba citizens: their health care, education, and ensuring young people have job opportunities right here in this province by stimulating growth.

Like David, we are making a decision that not everyone will like. In an effort to see beyond the current challenges we must accept that some will focus only on the immediate and reject our approach. And, like David, some will ridicule us and we will take some flak; however, we choose to move ahead understanding this. Our vision includes investing in Manitoba's future as we work with the present challenges.

I strongly encourage Manitobans to please read this budget thoroughly. It would be a much better conversation if people's perceptions were based on all of the pieces of this budget as opposed to two or three in isolation from the whole.

As elected officials we are responsible to the people who elect us and to listen to the needs of the people of this province, but it is also our responsibility to have a vision that will keep us all moving forward together. In the case of our budget this means making very difficult choices and taking bold steps in order to make sure we create that vision. Good decisions are not always popular decisions but easy options are rarely the best ones.

Mr. Speaker, just as in my great-great-great-grandfather's time, there are folks today like members opposite who can't appreciate the vision required to move our province ahead.

Thank you very much.