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Andrew Swan, MLA Minto
November 23, 2015

A Province on the Rise - Reply to the Throne Speech (Excerpt)

I want to take a few minutes to say how proud I am that restorative justice was part of the Throne Speech just the other day and, in fact, has formed part of the events following the Throne Speech. Last Wednesday morning, the Attorney General (Mr. Mackintosh) proclaimed this to be Restorative Justice Week in Manitoba. Manitoba is one of only... three provinces in the country that actually recognizes restorative justice, and we are seen as the leader on this front.

And, as well, there was a very, very important announcement that day which gives me great joy and also great hope that we are going to get better justice outcomes in all of our communities across the province of Manitoba. The Attorney General on Wednesday announced that The Restorative Justice Act, which was passed in the spring of 2014, is being proclaimed into force and also provided details on what the Province's restorative justice strategy is going to look like. I was very pleased, Madam Deputy Speaker, that there's an advisory council which will oversee the implementation of a five-year strategy and help us to grow restorative approaches to include community and government representatives with expertise in restorative justice. The beauty of restorative justice is that it will fit whichever community embraces it. And restorative justice in the West End may look very different from a rural community or a northern community. The importance is that the community will be engaged. It'll be victim centred to allow victims to have a voice and to be part of the solution which, in many cases, will result in much better outcomes for the offender, for the victim and for the community itself.

I'm very pleased that as part of the Throne Speech rollout, we've announced there will be funding for new and expanded mental health and drug courts. I was very proud as Attorney General to start Manitoba's first mental health court. We know there is a great demand. And we know that if we provide the right services to offenders at the right time, we can actually change their behaviour and we can result in, certainly, a better life for the offenders but equally importantly, more safety for the rest of us. And, of course, we have one drug court which has been operating for several years. Despite the lack of interest from the former federal government, I think there's every reason to believe that a drug court can continue to be expanded and perhaps we can even increase the number of sites in Manitoba, again, to provide a meaningful and a smart way to deal with people who commit crimes because of their addictions.

I'm very excited to hear there's a plan to establish a community court in Manitoba. A community court, of course, is a great way to get better outcomes by having a judge act less as a fact finder and a sentence imposer and more of a quarterback to help people get the treatment they need to build better community safety. I'm very pleased that we'll be supporting restorative justice programs in communities as diverse as Bloodvein First Nation, Portage la Prairie and Morden. I'm very proud we'll be investing money now to create restorative justice opportunities in Brandon and beyond in the Westman region, in Dauphin and beyond in the Parkland regions and also for Metis residents of Winnipeg.

I was very pleased to hear that there'll be $10,000 to Candace House to help create a business plan to aid in delivering enhanced victim supports. I know what Candace House wants to do by setting up a safe place for the families of victims of serious crime to be safe, to gather, to prepare themselves for having to endure very, very difficult testimony in court, and that is a very, very good investment by the government.

As well, this strategy will establish a restitution recovery program to help victims collect court-ordered payments. Restitution is sometimes ordered by judges, and I know sometimes victims don't feel there's a lot of help in recovering that restitution. As part of a restorative justice strategy, it then moves to the forefront, and that's a very, very exciting development in this province.

Our government will be creating five restorative justice hubs throughout the province to support existing programs and co-ordinate services and also improve the training and build awareness, and this is certainly important. We rely on communities that have healing circles or restorative justice panels, whatever we want to call them. It's going to be very helpful to assist those individuals to feel like they're part of something bigger, to get better training and learn best practices.

And, as well, there will be the creation of a unit of nine Crown attorneys, and Crown attorneys, of course, have always been busy people. They haven't always had the time they've wanted to be able to focus on restorative justice. With the substantial decrease in crime and the commitment of this government, it will then allow us to create a unit of nine Crown attorneys who will work on finding cases, not to close the door to restorative justice but to open the door to restorative justice.

And, you know, I suppose there was no more dramatic description of how important restorative justice is than a day I spent just a couple of years ago. I was honoured to attend an event at Nelson House First Nation. I won't pretend to say the name of the First Nation in Cree, because I might offend somebody; I'll simply call it NCN. And I was there with the member for Flin Flon (Mr. Pettersen), and that community was looking to expand restorative justice. It was supported by the chief and council, by the elders and, indeed, by the entire community, and I know that this bill will help the folks in Nelson House and elsewhere to expand restorative justice.

And afterwards, the member for Flin Flon and I spent some time in the courthouse in Thompson. He hadn't been to court before and I wanted to give him an opportunity to see how our justice system works. And despite efforts to streamline the court system and despite the video conferencing pilots that we were working on, it can still be a pretty intimidating thing to see how things work in our courts. I know there's always frustrations of remands. Sometimes it's frustrations by victims; at the end of the day they don't feel their voices have truly been heard, and I know that restorative justice will help in a great number of cases to get better results for everybody.

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Now, first, there are many great things in the Throne Speech, but perhaps none are greater and nothing is more important than helping our young people to thrive.

In 1999 when the NDP formed government, only 71 per cent of Manitoba students were graduating from grade 12. That number is now up to 86 per cent. That's a good start. There's more work to do, but it is great achievement over the past years.

In Minto there's two high schools: Technical-Vocational High School, otherwise known as Tec Voc, and Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute, known as Daniel Mac or DMCI. When I was first elected, DMCI had just over 200 grads at that first ceremony I went to; Tec Voc was well under 200. Now the Tec Voc grad has more than 200 grads and DMCI's grad is pushing 300, which makes for a long morning but a very, very joyous event. And it's been exciting, as the MLA now for 11 years, to watch students progress through our public school system and go on to take a trade or go to college or go to university and do whatever they want to do here in Manitoba.

And it's our plan, and it was in the Throne Speech, that we intend to do whatever we can to keep post-secondary education affordable. That's top of mind in my household, I have to admit, with a daughter graduating in June with plans to go into a science field and with another graduating in the next two years who is more on the arts side of things, and we know that keeping university affordable is very, very important in communities like mine.

The last time we had a Progressive Conservative government in this province, the cost of post-secondary tuition rose by 150 per cent and that slammed the door in the faces of young people in areas like mine who learned they would not be able to afford to go to university when they were finished grade 12, no matter what they'd accomplished in school. And we're not going to go back. We're going to continue to make university and college affordable so that everybody, all the best students in Manitoba, have the opportunity to follow their dreams right here in Manitoba. But it's not just what we do when we get them to university; it's a longer commitment to young people.

I'm very pleased in the Throne Speech that there's a commitment now to move to universal child care to build up and add 12,000 spaces to the system. It's not going to be immediate, it's frankly not going to be easy in many parts of the province but it's a continuing commitment, first of all, to allow parents to be freed up to do what they want to do. And for many, many parents that means the opportunity to return to the workforce. For some parents, that means the chance to join the workforce, maybe for the first time in their lives.

We know we do that by paying child-care providers a decent wage, that's why we created a pension plan for those working in early child education to make sure that those opportunities are there.

I see the investments in our schools, smaller class sizes. I had a chance to attend an event with the Minister of Education at Sister MacNamara School, very close to Minto, and it was a celebration of what we can accomplish, with students being given a little more attention and a little more time by their teachers.

I see how the community schools program works in schools like Wellington School and John M. King School, where parents who maybe haven't always had the best school experience in their own lives, maybe because of residential school, maybe they didn't have the chance to attend school because of circumstances in the country they came from, but it means that those parents now become engaged and willing partners in their children's education.

Support means that children are comfortable in learning, whether they're from Aboriginal families, whether they're new Canadians, whether they may be children who have a particular challenge. It means giving more to those students to help them. But it also means supporting excellence, and I'm very proud of my older daughter who's in the International Baccalaureate program, in addition to playing in a band and playing in the jazz band and curling; the kid's got a much better slide than I have ever developed in my time. Her class has students from all over Winnipeg School Division and beyond.

My younger daughter is in French immersion. She's also in band and jazz band, big on the artsy side. She's in the Shakespeare Club and she thinks it's pretty cool. And her class also has students from across the Winnipeg School Division, north of the river, south of the river, east of the river, who see that our public schools provide excellence and can provide a great foundation for whatever it is people want to do here in Manitoba. And certainly my kids and their classmates have spent their entire lives growing up in a school system with a benevolent provincial government in place.

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For the people of the West End, I am proud to support this Throne Speech because it builds our values in the West End: the recognition of valour, respect for hard work, pinning hopes on our education system and a vision of a province on the rise.

Thank you very much.