WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s NDP government is promising more infrastructure cash, more child-care spaces and foster care closer to home for indigenous children in a pre-election throne speech designed to shore up flagging support.
Premier Greg Selinger, who barely held on to his job this spring after an internal revolt, is doubling down on his infrastructure stimulus plan by promising to spend $4.5 billion more on roads, bridges and flood protection by 2022.
“We’ve already seen the Canadian economy’s forecast has been projected to slow down,” he said Monday. “This is not the time to put the brakes on investment and job creation because it will actually reinforce that downward trend in economic growth, which will make us all worse off.”
At the same time, he left the door open to delaying balancing the books once again and raising taxes if necessary.
“The best laid plans of mice and men change when the circumstances change,” Selinger told reporters. “You have to always stay open to that.”
The governing NDP plummeted in popular support after it raised the provincial sales tax by one percentage point to fund infrastructure spending in 2013. Five senior cabinet ministers resigned, saying they had lost confidence in Selinger, who hung on to his job by 33 votes in a subsequent leadership vote.
In the province’s last throne speech before voters go to the polls in April, the NDP government lays out a detailed plan to woo women, families and urban residents.
The NDP is promising to relocate rail lines within Winnipeg, create 12,000 more child-care spaces and expand a tax credit which helps pay for fertility treatment.
It’s also promising legislation to give those caring for elderly or sick relatives leave from work and to legalize a practice of allowing First Nations children seized by Child and Family Services to remain in their community with another family.
Manitoba has more than 10,000 children in care and most are indigenous. The province has come under fire for years, for either taking too many children into care or for repeatedly returning others to abusive parents.
First Nations children are often placed with extended family on reserves, Selinger said.
“We need some legal authority to allow that to happen.”
The government is also promising legislation to grant paid leave to those suffering from domestic violence, which came as a surprise to some women’s shelters that are more concerned about staying afloat.
Deena Brock, provincial co-ordinator for the Manitoba Association of Women’s Shelters, said no one was clamouring for paid leave given many victims of domestic violence are unemployed.
“My biggest concern is making sure the shelters have everything they need to be able to do their jobs properly,” she said. “Part of that, unfortunately, is funding.”
Royce Koop, a political science professor at the University of Manitoba, said the vision laid out by the NDP is designed to bring back disaffected voters and firm up the party’s base before the looming election.
“It’s not really reaching out to new voters,” Koop said. “It’s reaching out to people that … have probably voted for the NDP in the past.”
Opposition Leader Brian Pallister said he agrees with many of the “sentiments” laid out in the throne speech but said those promises are undercut by the government’s overspending.
“It has no plan to restore us to balance,” Pallister said. “None of these promises is sustainable nor are they achievable without action on the file of management.”