While 2020 marks the start of both a new decade and the first year of a new mandate for the Progressive Conservative provincial government, the focus in the Wheat City will remain on economic development, say Brandon’s provincial representatives.
Both Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer and Brandon East MLA Len Isleifson are settling into new, bigger roles in the legislature in Winnipeg, but say they want to keep their constituencies growing here at home.
Helwer, who was appointed minister of Central Services in a post-election cabinet shuffle, said on Tuesday the newly created department has hit the ground running so far in 2020 with staff from other provincial departments.
"(We are) working a lot on projects that involve federal and provincial and municipal partners throughout Manitoba, so we’ll start to see a lot of those projects announced in the near future as we work with our federal partners and they approve their side of it," he said.
His department is also working to improve procurement both at the provincial and municipal level. He said the department has had discussions with the City of Brandon on procurement and how the process can be reformed, but said the process likely won’t see big changes.
"What we’ve found is working with municipal partners and the federal government we can find access to better pricing on, say, engineering service, asphalt, a wide variety of things we buy," Helwer said.
He pointed to the creation of a rural economic development office in Brandon as a way the province is developing the private sector locally. The office, which is set to open early this year, was promised during the election campaign. Its role is to co-ordinate economic activity outside Winnipeg and work with other local economic development agencies.
Isleifson said he will also be working to co-ordinate economic activity in 2020, specifically by partnering with the municipal government to entice new business to the city and grow existing ones.
"Brandon’s at a unique spot right now where we have the ability to expand, and I think just working with some of our provincial partners and municipal partners, making sure we can move forward all together and be one big happy family," he said.
Isleifson, who was appointed legislative assistant to Health, Seniors and Active Living Minister Cameron Friesen, said the changes to rural healthcare outlined in the province’s Clinical and Preventive Services Plan will see some progress in 2019, but couldn’t speak to timelines.
The plan sets out a bigger role for the Brandon Regional Health Centre as it becomes a new "intermediate hub." That will mean more services coming to Brandon in an attempt to reduce the number of trips people have to make to Winnipeg for medical procedures. Isleifson said the timing of the expansion depends on the advisory committee and the recommendations it makes to the provincial government.
"As long as the experts and the professionals say Brandon is ready to move forward and if the funding is in place and when it’s in place. ... We want to do it right so I think you’ll see us moving forward in 2020. As for specifics, I don’t have that at the moment," he said.
The first step will be internal restructuring before any new medical programs can be brought to Brandon, he said.
"In my mind, there is a step(-by-step) process where if you’re going to move programs from one commuting to another, or expand into another community, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the resources to do that," Isleifson said.
It will also be a big year in Brandon East — and Brandon as a whole — for education as the new Maryland Park School is set to open in the fall. Isleifson said that is "huge" for the community.
Looking forward to the province’s 2020 budget, Helwer said there will likely be more tax cuts promised by the party in the 2019 election on the table, but couldn’t say which ones.
Isleifson said he will be looking to smaller provincial funding opportunities, like through the Building Sustainable Communities Program, to have the biggest impact locally. Both the East End Community Centre and the Valleyview Community Centre received funding under the program.
"From my perspective, as a local MLA, if we can continue to build on that and help build the small programs that are really community drive and community-directed — think that goes a long way and I’d like to make sure that continues."
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