Riding Mountain constituency candidates questioned, give comments
- Published on Friday, April 15, 2016
By Sheila Runions
A provincial election is set for Manitoba on Tuesday, April 19 and on Tuesday, April 5, Rapid City’s chamber of commerce hosted a candidate’s evening. The Green Party accepted Mark Olenick’s registration on March 25 so considering he had only 10 days to prepare vs. three months the Liberal and PC candidates have had, he provided excellent answers. The atmosphere was positive, due in part to the NDP candidate of Winnipeg being unable to attend. Approximately 65 people attended the two hour debate.
Candidates were given two minutes for opening and closing remarks and one minute to answer questions. Jordan Fleury (Liberal) said the past 75 days he’s spent significant time on the “campaign trail getting up close and personal; I have a very personal approach, very grassroots. I hope you consider our Liberal platform and policies.”
Greg Nesbitt (Progressive Conservative) gave some personal background, stating, “I have lived in Shoal Lake since 1968, finishing high school in 1975 and purchasing my first newspaper in 1977. For nearly 40 years, I have lived, volunteered, worked and invested in business opportunities in the constituency. Manitoba needs a new government with fresh energy and new ideas. Manitoba’s PC team has been gathering your thoughts and ideas on how we can better move our province forward.”
The first question was regarding the “priority projects your party would pursue for this area.” None answered that question effectively by listing specific projects in specific towns; they spoke in general terms. Liberals plan to direct one per cent of our provincial sales tax to municipalities on a per capita basis; therefore, he would give “in excess of $32,000-$33,000 to each municipality in the constituency” to spend where they see fit. Olenick’s party “plans to move to a more green economy, stop farmland draining, cut red tape for organic farmers” and to implement their Guaranteed Annual Income Plan (GAIP) “for seniors and low-income families with kids.” Nesbitt considers health care “most important” in the Riding Mountain constituency and cited PC’s commitment to “1,200 new beds in eight years,” a recruit/retain program and “moving the Minnedosa/Neepawa hospital forward.”
The second question was to know each party’s plan to enhance education. PCs will “increase bursaries to $6.75 million for university and we’ll partner with the private sector for another $20 million. Our kids are the lowest nationally in English language arts, math and science. Reading is a big part of education and we’ll have reading assessment teams. Education starts in the early grades and our Read to Succeed program will have Grade 3 students reading at a national level or higher.” Fleury believes a “lack of communication in the province affects people the most.” His party will “set up an education round table with forward-thinking movement from stakeholders in the education community, including child care educators.” Olenick said, “Manitoba Green Party has a strong policy proposal to remove education tax off property tax onto general income tax. We are the only province to fund education through property tax; a better tax system will provide a better education system for all schools in our province.”
The third question was regarding party plans to create better health care. Olenick expects to “save money through preventative care rather than focus on acute care. Through our GAIP, we’ll keep people out of homes and institutions. We propose a 20 per cent tax on sugary foods in schools and convenience stores to use to preventative education and child dental care. Right now, only four cents per dollar is used on prevention.” Fleury will “look at unoccupied spaces, whether clients or staffing levels. We need to look at needing three hospitals in a 100 kilometre radius, who are all looking for the same doctors and patients. We need to train and retain staff. We can fill our hospitals but they need staff; why not run our hospitals as training centres?” Nesbitt’s party will “reduce ambulance fees in half by the first year. We need to recruit sufficient doctors to have on-call so there’s not as much frustration which ultimately leads to them leaving; Manitoba has the worst doctor retention rate in Canada. We need to share services moving forward and share facilities, to take pressure off some facilities. We will work with stakeholder and grassroots people to help us make decisions.”
All three men supported a question about highway infrastructure extending its scope to repair Hwy. 24. They all understand it has been “neglected,” is “terrible” and that “consistent upkeep” is needed.
A query regarding the inability to access cairns because of closed approaches/removed roads was surprising news to the candidates. They all agreed local history is important and would work to see those sites would once again have suitable access.
Then came questions about seniors, decreasing the amount they pay in school tax and affordable housing. Fleury said, “Seniors are a high priority on the Liberal platform; that’s our message with free ambulance rides and a dedicated stroke unit. We have unoccupied Manitoba Housing homes, maybe we can look at those for seniors.” Olenick said, “Greens plan to end senior poverty; GAIP is a strong way to fix the problem. GAIP amounts to two per cent increased spending money in your pocket, and to all Manitobans, to spend wherever you want. Empty [Housing] homes should not be allowed.” Nesbitt said, “The function of any good government is to take care of its seniors. We want to look at the debt in Manitoba; we can’t promise anything until we look at the books. We have a $700 million deficit per year, but we do promise to reduce the PST to seven per cent. An average family here pays $4,000 more per year than a Saskatchewan family does in tax. The number of people in Manitoba making $100,000 per year who lived in subsidized housing also needs to be looked at.”
Someone wanted to know how they plan to “create new revenue without additional taxation?” Nesbitt would “encourage business of all sizes” to the province, which would “once again be open for business. There’s too much red tape now for businesses to set up here. Once we look at the books, we’ll know where to cut and will have new revenue.” Fleury thinks new revenue will come from “new partnerships. New opportunities exist with the four Hutterite colonies and four reserves in Riding Mountain. They are under federal jurisdiction and if a community project is approved by municipal or provincial governments, they don’t have to involve colonies and Nations in the decision process. We should create partnerships with them…. we have become complacent.” Olenick’s party will “support and invest in local business, not big corporations. The more we localize the economy, the more it will grow and provide jobs for people to aspire to.”
A similar query was how to inspire businesses to invest in Riding Mountain Constituency in the next four years of their term. Fleury plans to “phase out and eliminate small business tax and look at the small tax threshold, which has been an deterrent to outside stakeholders.” Nesbitt “pledged to provide more venture capital, look at promoting trade in western Manitoba to Canada and the world and reduce untenderred contracts so all businesses have the ability to tender.” Olenick will “encourage environmental and sustainable business and food markets and avoid importing and exporting what our local economy produces.”
The men were questioned about mental health issues in the province. Olenick acknowledged it is a “potentially damaging issue”; Fleury thinks those “services should be in broad spectrum health because it’s more than a physical disability”; Nesbitt believes “residents of rural Manitoba should have access the same as in the city. We’d work with mental health workers to answer the issue.”
Young families wanted to know about better pay for early childhood educators, increased daycare space or incentives for those parenting at home. Fleury suggested the PST rebate could be “kicked back to the infrastructure fund; we don’t have the money to pay $22-$25 per hour like they do in Brandon or Winnipeg.” Olenick would “seek to further focus on children through education and the Child and Family Services system, which is more of an issue. We have a strong focus on universal child care which is publicly funded and available to all.” Nesbitt agreed teachers of the young “should be paid more, but we also have to look at the situation to get paid what they deserve. When we raise the basic personal exemption and end bracket creep, this will put more money back into family hands.”
The candidates were asked about budget cuts. Greens will do “nothing. We’ll have a balanced budget to reduce subsidies, tax dividends and non-refundable tax for single collection.” Liberals are “not looking to set aside a new budget, but money will be found in the one per cent PST reduction.” PCs will make “no immediate cuts. We need to look at the books to balance them, that’s why we haven’t made a lot of spending announcements. We will audit departments that are top-heavy and will find efficiencies there, but we’ll protect the front-line workers.”
The final question of the evening regarded sports and how the parties would “enable low income children to participate.” Liberals will “eliminate PST on sporting goods and make more effective use of parks and recreation.” Greens would “accomplish this with GAIP; single families will get a 23 per cent increase after their tax income, which is an important factor in equalizing this for all children.” Nesbitt spouted no policy; he simply said PCs “should look at this to make sure no child is excluded from sport.”
To close Olenick said, “More than ever there’s a push for change in our province and a sustainable economy which doesn’t ride on oil sands. Give the Green Party a chance. Give James Beddome, the Manitoba Green Party leader, a chance in office. Give me a chance and I will actively support all these programs with better legislation from a young, active community.”
Fleury’s final comment was a pledge to personally reply to any contact received through phone or email. “We are all looking for change, you won’t be left alone. I won’t be flabbergasted about anything. I want you to see me as a family man, not a Liberal. I have a vested interest in helping people and I’m willing to put my neck out there for that. Just remember, I’m not a Liberal, I’m a family man.”
Nesbitt left the crowd with these final thoughts: “Manitoba values will be at the heart of a new Progressive Conservative government. We will restore Manitobans trust in government by bringing in Manitoba’s first open government bill which will establish new, higher standards for transparency, accountability and MLA ethics, with open contracting procedures. A new PC government will bring back common sense. Like all Manitobans, a new PC government values teamwork. I promise to work hard on behalf of residents of Riding Mountain, bringing a new voice for a compassionate, responsible and trustworthy government for all Manitobans.”