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This article was published 20/10/2011 (3621 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Premier Greg Selinger wasted little time in getting the Manitoba legislature back in session, by presenting one of the shortest throne speeches in years.
The six-page speech, which repeated many of the election promises made by the New Democrats, did not directly address western Manitoba, save for plans to expand the Brandon Regional Health Centre and improve a clinic in Ste. Rose.
However, Brandon East New Democratic Party MLA Drew Caldwell said the speech outlines how the government will "get to work."
"It continues the redevelopment of the Brandon Regional Health Centre campus," Caldwell said of the speech delivered by Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee. "The reconstruction of the bed tower and medical wards was underscored during the throne speech, which pleases me because it is a natural follow-through as it’s in the budget speech that’s coming in the spring. We can see some concrete steps being made to continue to build health-care excellence at the Brandon Regional Health Centre."
The short speech was not lacking substance, but "was just articulated over and over and over again over the past six weeks during the election," Caldwell said.
Newly elected Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer said the government’s plan was light on details, failed to include Westman in many initiatives and fell flat with regards to flood prevention strategies.
"It’s more notable by what’s not in it rather than what’s in it," Helwer said.
"I’m very disappointed that there’s no mention of (Assiniboine Community College) or highways or infrastructure in Brandon or Winnipeg or rural Manitoba or the substantive issues we need to deal with. There was nothing there."
Particularly alarming to Helwer was the absence of strategy to deal with future floods in southwestern Manitoba.
"Their little comment about planning to plan for flooding, when we talked to people in Brandon and rural areas where they are still feeling repercussions from the flood and what that’s done to the agricultural sector and the economy, shows that this government doesn’t seem to understand that at all."
Helwer noted few, if any, of the throne speech pledges included timelines for completion, leaving the document toothless.
"It’s hard to see what’s been introduced in health care, which was their No. 1 priority and the only area where Brandon was mentioned, it doesn’t say what it means," Helwer said.
That paragraph in the speech said: "The Brandon hospital …and other health facilities will be expanded and renewed."
Selinger’s government also outlined a plan to pass legislation limiting future post-secondary education tuition hikes to cost of living increases, dropping the student loan interest rate to the prime rate and changing the student loan regulations to help reduce debt burdens for students.
"This is definitely a step in the right direction," said Deandra Tousignant, Brandon University Students’ Union president and vice-chairwoman of the Canadian Federation of Students — Manitoba.
"Regulating tuition fees to the rate of inflation is a good policy now.
"Of course, we will continue to ask for tuition fee freezes. In regards to student loans, we had been asking for the elimination of interest rates on provincial student loans such as is the case for Newfoundland and Labrador, but this is a step in the right direction."
Caldwell said since 1999, the New Democrats have used the throne speech not to outline what they will accomplish during a single legislative session, but instead as a blueprint for what it wants to do over several years.
"When we embark on an initiative, we set out a business plan for the completion of that plan that has nothing to do with throne speech cycles or election cycles," Caldwell said.
"It has to do with how long does it take to get the job done. The business plan for the Brandon Regional Health Centre, for example, is 12 years on but we articulated the next couple of years with the reconstruction of the bed tower."
Helwer criticized that approach, adding there was no mention in the throne speech of when Manitoba’s books would be balanced. The New Democrats had pledged the province would stop running deficits by 2014.
Helwer is expected to give his first speech in the legislature next week, when MLAs offer their replies to the throne speech.
The six-page document also included a government promise to hire more nurses and doctors, reduce class sizes to a maximum of 20 in early grade school years and hire 100 new police officers.
It guaranteed Manitoba residents the lowest combined bills for electricity, home heating and auto insurance.
And it renewed a commitment to building a hydro transmission line down the west side of Lake Manitoba.
To open Thursday’s proceedings, Transcona MLA Darryl Reid was elected Speaker, defeating fellow New Democrats Paul Dewar (Selkirk) and Tom Nevakshonoff (Interlake) in a secret ballot.
Nevakshonoff was later named Deputy Speaker.