By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
BRANDON, Man. – Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger promised better cellphone service and aid for refugees Wednesday as he faced questions from municipal leaders.
Selinger told the Association of Manitoba Municipalities he has informed the federal government that the province will need help once Ottawa’s promised 25,000 Syrian refugees begin to arrive.
“Accommodations — this is a challenge, everywhere — housing, and how much they’re going to provide for rents, because in some circumstances the rents are going to be prohibitive.”
Selinger said it isn’t clear whether military bases will be required, but it’s something he would like to avoid if possible.
“We’d prefer to settle people in permanent locations, or at least semi-permanent locations … close to schools, health and social services.”
Selinger touted the arrival of refugees as a potential boon for rural areas suffering from population loss or economic challenges. He said many of the refugees are well-educated professionals and are eager to settle in a new community.
The federal Liberals have modified a promise to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. About 10,000 are expected before then, but the rest are to arrive early in the new year.
Selinger said most of the initial wave will be made up of privately sponsored people with existing connections and support in Canada.
He also said he wants a federal representative in Manitoba to work with a provincial co-ordinator so that refugee and settlement services can be provided quickly.
The refugee issue was one of many Selinger and a half-dozen cabinet ministers faced during a question-and-answer session at the association’s annual meeting. Mayors, reeves and councillors also asked about everything from flood prevention — Selinger continues to push the federal government for 50-50 cost-sharing of mitigation projects — to poor cellphone service in rural areas, notably in the province’s southeast corner.
Selinger said he hopes to have Manitoba Hydro share space with Manitoba Telecom Services on new transmission lines being built across the south. He pointed out new Hydro CEO Kelvin Shepherd used to be head of the telecom company.
“We think we can leverage those assets to increase broadband (Internet) and cellphone service throughout Manitoba.”