Manitoba's pre-election throne speech promises better health care, less crime

WINNIPEG — Manitoba's Progressive Conservative government promised to improve health care, tackle crime and set up new oversight for teachers in a pre-election throne speech Tuesday.

The 18-page speech, which outlines the government's priorities for the coming year, pledges 1,000 addiction treatment spaces and new infrastructure to upgrade or replace aging hospitals.

The speech, read in the legislature chamber by Lt.-Gov. Anita Neville, also outlines plans to increase the involvement of the private sector in delivering diagnostic services and surgeries.

Premier Heather Stefanson said other provinces have been able to cut into diagnostic and surgical backlogs during the COVID-19 pandemic by using private providers within their jurisdictions.

"We've had to go out of province, and sometimes even out of the country, to deliver those services," Stefanson said.

"And unfortunately that should have been able to be done here."

Any expansion of the use of private providers will continue to be within the single-payer medicare system, she added.

The throne speech frequently mentions crime, as Winnipeg has seen a record number of homicides and a provincial election is scheduled for next October.

The government promised more cameras for downtown surveillance, more money to fight gangs and new efforts to combat child exploitation. The plan also calls for more conservation officers to crack down on illegal hunting.

The government committed to setting up a teacher registry and an independent body to govern teacher misconduct. The aim is to make disciplinary action public in a similar way to how doctors and lawyers are governed.

The throne speech also touched on the future of energy rates, which are shaping up to be an election issue.

Manitobans currently pay among the lowest rates in North America for electricity, and Crown-owned Manitoba Hydro has sought substantial rate increases to deal with a debt load that has ballooned in the last 20 years due to cost overruns on a couple of megaprojects.

The Public Utilities Board, an independent regulator, has granted smaller annual rate hikes than the utility has sought, and the Opposition New Democrats have promised to ensure rates are frozen. They have not explained how that might be done and have said details will come closer to the election.

Stefanson said her government will keep rates affordable while helping the utility be financially stable, but would not provide details.

"We will be coming out with the details in the weeks and months ahead with respect to that," she said.

The throne speech also promised new funding for non-profit groups that help people facing homelessness and the delivery of a long-promised income-support program for people with severe disabilities.

The throne speech kicks off a new session of the legislature, which will break for the holidays on Dec. 1.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2022.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press