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PCs up north in bid to erode NDP's hold

Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives launched their northern strategy Wednesday, in part to dent the governing NDP's grip on the region.

It includes a tour by Charleswood MLA Myrna Driedger, who met with business and First Nations leaders in The Pas -- the same day NDP Education Minister James Allum was in town to announce four capital projects to improve schools.

Driedger will be in Flin Flon today and Swan River Friday. She's accompanied by the PC mining critic, Spruce Woods MLA Cliff Cullen.

PC Leader Brian Pallister said the party's Northern Lights, a Progressive Conservative Framework for a Northern Strategy, is the beginning of a push by the Tories to develop policies on northern development. The PCs have already set up an advisory council of northerners to provide direction and advice.

Key starting-point areas for the Tories include jobs and training, mining, healthy living, infrastructure and tourism and culture.

"The goals here are pretty clear," Pallister said. "We want to develop a plan for the whole province, not just for one piece of it. The north is a viable, vital part of our economic and social future. We're looking to develop better ideas. If we have better ideas, maybe we earn the support of people."

Allum said it's odd Pallister would make his announcement in Winnipeg.

"He didn't leave the city," Allum said. "To me that speaks volumes about his personal commitment to the north."

Allum also said the NDP's record in the north is well-established, including the opening of the new $82-million, 84,400-square-foot University College of the North campus last month in Thompson.

"To me, it's a sign of our government's ongoing commitment to try to make sure there are opportunities for kids to position themselves to get a good education and stay in the north," he said, adding Pallister's plan ignores proposed hydro development. "Keeping the north strong for northerners, especially aboriginal northerners, I don't see that in what Mr. Pallister is suggesting."

Pallister travelled to Thompson and Flin Flon a month ago to meet with civic leaders in the lead-up to developing his party's northern strategy.

The four northern ridings and Swan River have been held by the NDP for nine consecutive elections.

"The reality is no one should govern this province that doesn't have an idea of what they want to do with northern Manitoba and how they want to help northern Manitoba become stronger and better in the future," Pallister said.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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