By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba legislature rose Thursday for the summer break and an upcoming election campaign that is expected to focus on health care, taxes and crime.
The final sitting before the vote scheduled for Oct. 3 saw the governing Progressive Conservatives pass dozens of bills into law.
There were bills related to the budget, which saw the government boost spending sharply after years of deficit-fighting. There were anti-crime measures, such as giving municipalities more power to post security staff on transit, and legislation to make it easier for victims of revenge porn to sue those who post their intimate images.
But five bills were derailed by the Opposition New Democrats, including one that would have set up a licensing and regulatory regime for supervised drug consumption sites.
Premier Heather Stefanson said that will become a campaign issue.
“I’m sure it will be because that bill was about bringing safety for those who are suffering from addictions in our province and I think it’s very unfortunate that that bill did not pass,” Stefanson said Thursday.
The Tories said the bill would pave the way for safe addiction treatment centres by pushing people to treatment programs and setting standards such as mandatory medical supervision.
The NDP and some community groups said the proposed regime would have been so onerous, it would have prevented any supervised consumption sites from opening. Manitoba is the only province west of the Maritimes without a supervised consumption site.
The Tories have been trailing in opinion polls for more than two years — ever since the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic strained hospitals. At one point, dozens of intensive care patients were shipped to other provinces in a bid to free up beds.
The NDP focused on health care during the spring sitting. Their time in question period was dominated by discussion of burnout and high vacancy rates among health-care workers.
They focused Thursday on stalled contract talks for allied health-care professionals, a group that includes X-ray technicians, laboratory workers and rural paramedics. They have been without a collective agreement for five years and have set a strike deadline for later this month.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said his party will reveal a plan to “fix” the health-care system closer to the election. He would not reveal details Thursday but said the plan will involve redirecting money from the bureaucracy to the front lines.
“Well the P.C.s didn’t do anything to fix the crisis in health care and it’s clear that we need an election,” Kinew said.
The Tories have accused the New Democrats of being soft on crime and of having a secret plan to raise the provincial sales tax, which Kinew has repeatedly denied.
Affordability is also set to be a major campaign theme.
The Tory government has been issuing rebate cheques to individuals and families in recent months to help people with the rising cost of living, and is in the middle of a multi-year plan to phase out education taxes on property.
The New Democrats have promised to freeze hydroelectric rates, but have repeatedly refused to explain how that might be done. Electricity prices are set by a provincial regulatory body.
One NDP member seeking re-election, Mark Wasyliw, was recently recorded telling a voter that a NDP government could regulate grocery companies to bring down the price of food. The NDP rejected an interview request to explain details.
Tory house leader Kelvin Goertzen said despite the ongoing poll numbers — which show the Tories trailing dramatically in Winnipeg, where most legislature seats are — the party is feeling more optimistic about its chances for re-election.
“I would say a year ago, there would have been concern. I would say today, there is optimism.”