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Andrew Swan, MLA Minto
November 22, 2012

Reply to the Speech from the Throne

It is an honour to speak to this 2012 Speech from the Throne. This is the ninth legislative session I've been privileged to be a part of, and I want you to know, Mr. Speaker, I haven't lost the excitement and enthusiasm to represent the people who've elected me to serve them. I, like most members in this House, don't take for granted the freedom we have to speak both inside and outside this Chamber about things that matter to us and to our constituents.

The Throne Speech, Mr. Speaker, marks the direction of the government for the coming year and beyond. And while I'm proud to serve as a member of Cabinet, including Attorney General for the last three years, my first responsibility, of course, is to the people of Minto who've elected me to the Legislature. And this is a government which both looks out for and lifts up the people that I represent.

And in my time, I'm going to talk of the remarkable young people in Minto and their importance to the future of our province. And I'll talk about how this Speech from the Throne continues to build a brighter future for the people that I represent.

For those who don't know, for the members opposite, I'll talk a little bit about the constituency of Minto. It's mainly–the West End of Winnipeg is the way you describe it. It starts only a few blocks north and west of the Legislature. It's not geography, Mr. Speaker, that makes it special. There's no rivers, there's no beaches, no lakes, no mountain ranges, no hills, no forests in Minto. Since the boundaries were redrawn for the 2011 election, we don't even have a creek in Minto, but–and I know my vantage point may be a little different from some members' vantage points, but I can tell you, I can stand on Sargent Avenue at almost any intersection and see both ends of my constituency.

What makes the West End special is what's always made it special, Mr. Speaker, and that's the people. And it's people who came from Scotland and England and Ireland, from Iceland, Germany, Poland, the Ukraine, Italy, Portugal, Vietnam, the Philippines, the Caribbean, China, Korea, Africa. Really the entire world has come to the West End, and it really is an area that keeps reinventing itself. It's home to many of Manitoba's Aboriginal and Metis people, many coming south from their northern communities.

You spend time with young people in Minto and you see the bright future that Manitoba has. And, you know, we have some real opportunities, Mr. Speaker. Manitoba, according to our Bureau of Statistics and Stats Canada, actually has the highest percentage of its population between 15 and 24 years of age than any other province in Canada.

I see our young people in schools. Now, most students of the West End wind up going either to Daniel McIntyre Collegiate or Tec Voc High School. And I want to tell you, there is a healthy rivalry between those two schools and one of my most difficult political roles is to balance out the Maroons and the Hornets in my community.

If you go to DMCI, you'll find outstanding academics, you'll find sports teams that can compete with the big suburban high schools; you'll find performing arts that really are second to none in this province and you'll also find some vocational arts as well.

If you go to Tec Voc, you'll find outstanding academics, sports, performing arts, but also first-class technical and vocational training preparing students for high-tech, well-paying careers here in the province of Manitoba.

Just yesterday, Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Education (Ms. Allan) and the Minister of Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade (Mr. Bjornson) attended Tec Voc for an announcement of further support for trades training in the province of Manitoba.

And, of course, I am very proud to have a Hornet sitting right behind me. The honourable Minister for Children and Youth Opportunities (Mr. Chief), of course, is a Tec Voc grad which he tends to remind me time and time and time again.

What's really impressive, of course, is young people who refuse to fit stereotypes that people may want to create for them. And so, when I meet young people, I might meet student athletes who are also honours students who also sing or play in the band. Or I'll meet kids who are involved in dance who will also whip you just as quickly on the basketball court and then head off to their faith community to make a difference in their community.

And I try not to fit those stereotypes either. And while I don't mind being known by my students as the guy who's suing big tobacco, I'm equally proud to be known as the guy who does his best to make it out to watch their teams succeed in the basketball playoffs. And I don't mind being recognized as the Minister of Justice who introduced legislation to improve human rights, but it's equally rewarding, Mr. Speaker, to be recognized by students at the mall or students at the Cindy Klassen recreation centre. I should add, that's a place where a lot of the young people in my community go to work hard to try and bulk up and put on muscle and put on weight. It's also a place where guys like me run around the track and try and take off some of that weight that we tend to gain in some of the unhealthy parts of the job that we do.

Now, we talk in our Throne Speech and other Throne Speeches and our budgets about keeping more young people in schools and getting them through high school. And the numbers, Mr. Speaker, tell a great story in Manitoba. When we took power in 1999, only about 71 per cent of our students were actually getting through and completing high school. Well, it's 84 per cent now. We've almost cut the drop-out rates in half in the 13 years we've been in government. And the Throne Speech confirms that we'll continue to work with the Premier's Advisory Council on Education, Poverty and Citizenship and we'll keep going after that and we'll keep reducing those drop-out rates and getting more young people through school.

You know, it's exciting to be on the front lines to celebrate with our young people as they finish high school and graduate and move out into the world. In June, I attended both high schools' graduations, as I always do, and it was a really special time. A ceremony in the morning, well, the ceremony at Daniel McIntyre, went on and it went on and it went on, and that's because this year they had more than 275 graduates–more than anybody can remember and that school's been in the West End for more than 90 years. And then I went to the evening Tec Voc grad at Duckworth Centre, which is a great grad; it's always a highlight of the year. And Tec Voc had more than 200 grads, which, again, is more than anybody could remember in the school's history and that school's been there for more than 60 years. It doesn't happen by accident. It happens because of the investments of this government; it happens because of the involvement of the families, the hard work of the students; and really, Mr. Speaker, it comes down to the respect that we give teachers and educators in our system in Manitoba. That's why kids in the West End are set to succeed.

Now, of course, there are many other things to celebrate with young people in the West End. After eight years as the MLA now, I get to see the places these young people are going. And some of the students I used to read stories to in I Love to Read Month or some of the students who grilled me in question-and-answer sessions in their classes are now moving on to university, to college, into trades or into the workforce. And many of those in the workforce may be full-time or they may be part-time, and some of those students may be supporting their families–even supporting family members overseas. And if you meet young folks from my community, you might meet them, you know, pursuing their education working in the service industry. They might be serving you at the Convention Centre for one of the many dinners that we have the privilege to attend; maybe they'll be checking out your purchases at Polo Park or maybe helping run their family's restaurant on Notre Dame or Sargent or Ellice. You know, I'm proud we fought for a fair minimum wage for these young people and better protections for workplace health and safety. And I know our Progressive Conservative opponents have very different ideas on minimum wage and workplace health and safety. It was Hugh McFadyen who called minimum wage increases political candy. And it's the members across the way who call safe workplaces–well, they call those regulations red tape and they oppose them every step of the way. And you know, we think it's important that we provide fairness and safety and justice for those young workers.

We heard in the Throne Speech about investments in our post-secondary institutions. The University of Winnipeg field house is going up just across the street from Minto constituency, but that's okay. That's okay, because we all work together. It's going to be a valuable asset, not just for the university, but, Mr. Speaker, for the larger community. And it really keeps up with how the U of W, over the past many years, has broken down the barriers between the university and the surrounding community, communities like mine, in recent years. Many students from the West End wind up going to the University of Manitoba, which is undergoing a tremendous expansion and transformation as Project Domino nears its successful completion. The U of M healthy living centre, of course, will open in 2015 and be a great resource for that university and for the entire city of Winnipeg and province of Manitoba. And this year, Mr. Speaker, we'll take a major step in expanding Red River College. There'll be $60 million invested in a new skilled trades and technology centre where students will receive trades training for construction and manufacturing sectors where there are skilled, high-paying jobs waiting for them.

Many young people are pursuing employment in the health-care field, and, unlike in the 1990s when my friends and my classmates fled Manitoba–they fled Manitoba because of short-sighted cuts to health care–today's health-care graduates have a bright future right here–pharmacy, medicine, nursing, occupational therapy. I know students from Minto will be part of an expanded nurse practitioner program at the University of Manitoba, and many will wind up–they'll wind up providing care to Manitobans at the Health Sciences Centre just, again, across the street from the constituency of Minto, which continues to develop.

Now, Mr. Speaker, people from the heart of this city know what's good for the heart of the city, and the development of a groundbreaking urban and inner studies program at the University of Winnipeg will harness this knowledge and continue to help us innovate. And, you know, if the member for Agassiz (Mr. Briese) wants to register for some courses and learn about the inner city, I invite him to join my West End students. He may learn something and that'll be a good thing.

Now, students in the West End don't expect a free ride. They don't want a free ride but they want and they need their education to be affordable, and we've continued to keep tuition rates affordable. So it's the best and the brightest, and not just those who are lucky enough to be born into wealthy families, who have the chance to excel and be part of our economy and have all the chances they should have. And that's why we've got not just among the most affordable tuition rates in Canada, we also have the 60 per cent tuition fee rebate, to encourage our young people to stay in or to return to the province of Manitoba. And our tuition policy and our minimum wage policy have opened the door to more and more West End students moving on to higher education.

Now, not every student has had the opportunity to be prepared to step right out of school and into higher education or the workforce. And, Mr. Speaker, we know sometimes just keeping those young people engaged in school is a challenge in and of itself. And that's why legislation requiring schools to support young people who may not feel at home in a traditional high school classroom, well, it's another positive step in including everybody in Manitoba's economy and getting more young people to get their graduation, to succeed, to be able to step out into the workforce.

And it also starts early. And we know that lower student-teacher ratios mean better results for students in the West End and everywhere else in the province of Manitoba. And in the very first year of our commitment to reducing class sizes for kindergarten to grade 3, we've partnered with our school divisions to fund 79 more teachers, and we've brought 176 more classrooms down to 20 students or less.

And, you know, there are challenges in the busy schools in the West End where many, many students are not learning English as their first language, sometimes not even as their second language–sometime as their third or fourth language. But they work hard and so do their teachers and so do their families. And I'm welcoming the new legislation we'll be introducing in support of community schools, because I've seen how programs at schools like Wellington School, which, of course, the Minister of Finance (Mr. Struthers) visited with me some time ago, and John M. King School, involve parents and result in better outcomes.

You know, all children deserve to attend schools where they feel welcome, where they feel safe and where they feel respected, and I'm looking forward to the new measures we'll be introducing to help parents, help students and teachers fight bullying in and around our schools.

Now, maybe you'll see young people from Minto involved in Manitoba's growing and vibrant arts and culture community. You know, I know a lot of talented musicians and dancers and actors and artists. Maybe you'll see them at Rainbow Stage or at the theatre centre or maybe even on the Ellen show or on stage at Air Canada Centre in Toronto with Lady Gaga.

Maybe you'll meet some young people from Minto at Folklorama. I've got to tell you, after nine years, I never grow tired of celebrating our diversity with people from all over this province. I never thought, Mr. Speaker, that I'd get to a point in my life where I would watch more live dance than live sports, both with my own daughters and everybody else's. But, you know, I've come to accept that and, frankly, I've come to cherish that fact, and I maybe have learned a little bit more about dance than I ever thought I would know before.

You know, it's our young people who want to be part of a dynamic and exciting place to live. And in the past years our government has worked with the private sector and community partners to make important investments in world-class amenities, from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to Investors Group Field to the redevelopment of Assiniboine Park. Plans for the expansion of the Winnipeg Convention Centre were announced just days ago. Private sector investments are also leading the way, whether it's IKEA Winnipeg, to the new retail developments right around Polo Park, where I know a lot of west enders will be working and a lot of west enders will be shopping.

And, you know, young Manitobans, like the ones I represent, are talking about bringing the Women's World Cup to Winnipeg. They're talking about the Juno Awards. They're talking about the Canada Summer Games, and I can't tell you how much they're talking about bringing in more and more world-class performers that will be performing in our world-class stadium on the University of Manitoba campus.

And, you know, young people in my area don't have a lot of money and neither do most of their families, but they know with a strong economy and low housing costs, Manitoba continues to be one of the most affordable places to live. Young people know that their families pay the lowest rates in the country for utilities bundles made up of home heating, electricity and auto insurance, and our government doesn't just talk about that: we've put that commitment in law, Mr. Speaker.

And, you know, I could go on for a lot longer about all the great things happening, but I want to give both my opponents and also my colleagues the chance to talk about their own constituencies and talk about the great future we have in Manitoba for young people. And, you know, I'm blessed with some of the amazing people that I represent and I will continue to represent them as best I can. They've made it clear to me they want us to keep investing in activities to keep young people engaged, to keep them busy, to keep them connected. They want us to take on and ensure consequences for those who would hurt our communities, and they know a balanced approach is the best way to keep us safe.

So on behalf of young people I represent and their families, I'm proud to support the Speech from the Throne. I'm proud of young people who represent their families, who represent their heritage, who represent their faith communities in their neighbourhood so well. It's young people like Yvanne and Christian who express their faith and work to build our neighbourhood; young people like Samson who's a football player–rapper–artist who is also proud to share his Ethiopian heritage with us; young people like Sarah who issued a call to her grade 12 classmates, as a graduation present to themselves and others, to pursue social justice in the West End and others; and many others who are part of a bright future for Manitoba. I know they'll keep challenging us to continue to open opportunities, to do the right thing, and they'll keep telling me what works and what they think we could do better.

Most young people know this NDP government is on their side, and most of the rest are those who haven't heard or who don't know what it was like for young people in Manitoba when a Progressive Conservative government slammed doors in their faces and shut them out of opportunities. When there's a choice between the hard-working and dedicated youth in my community and those few elsewhere who would close those doors, who would close out those opportunities and keep people in my area from achieving everything that they can and they should for the province of Manitoba, I'll stand up for my young folks any day, any time. And that's why I am proud to stand with my colleagues and my friends as New Democrats, and, Mr. Speaker, I am proud to support this Speech from the Throne.

Thank you.