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Manitoba Promises More Health-Care Workers, Fuel Tax Suspension in Throne Speech

November 21, 2023 5:21 PM | The Canadian Press

By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Wab Kinew

Premier Wab Kinew approaches the podium during a press conference at the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew said Tuesday he intends to keep his election promises, but some discretionary spending will be looked at and some capital projects may have to be pushed back.

“There may be some challenging conversations about the nice-to-have items on the previous government’s agenda as opposed to the need-to-have items,” Kinew told reporters.

The comments came as the NDP government delivered its first throne speech since winning the Oct. 3 election and ending seven years of Progressive Conservative rule.

The speech largely reiterated NDP campaign promises.

Bills to temporarily suspend the provincial fuel tax as of Jan. 1, declare a statutory holiday for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and give Métis leader Louis Riel the title of honorary first premier will all be brought forward in the coming days, Kinew said.

The government will also follow through on promises to provide free birth control, offer a more labour-friendly environment, and put up new aid to beef producers, the throne speech, read in the legislature chamber by Lt.-Gov. Anita Neville, said. The number of health-care professionals across the province is to be boosted and a universal nutrition program in schools is to be in place next September.

Among the newly announced measures, the government plans to introduce mandatory Holocaust education in the school curriculum. There are also to be steps taken in schools to counter Islamophobia.

The province has also reached an agreement in principle with the federal government to help people switch from home heating oil to geothermal energy, Kinew said. The deal would only apply to some 2,500 homes, as most Manitobans heat with natural gas or electricity.

The government must, however, tighten its belt, Kinew added. He accused the former Progressive Conservative government of having made some commitments before the election without budgeting the appropriate amount of money.

“The previous government dramatically overcommitted on the capital side,” Kinew said.

“We’re effectively in a situation where they did that in a high-interest environment.”

That could mean pushing back some projects, such as a $1.5-billion multi-year revamp of adult bed towers at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, he said.

The Progressive Conservatives, now in opposition, denied the accusation.

Kinew is trying to cover for his expensive campaign promises, leader Heather Stefanson said.

“He’s going to have to find the money from somewhere, which means he’s going to be cutting programs or raising taxes on the backs of Manitobans.”

The NDP also has to deal with the fallout of its recent decision to step into contract talks at Crown-owned Manitoba Public Insurance, Stefanson said, which resulted in a higher wage offer that was accepted by striking workers.

Other public-sector workers are seeking raises, including some 11,000 civil servants who recently gave their union a strike mandate and are set to return to the negotiating table next week.

The legislature is scheduled to sit for 12 days before the winter break.

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