We think itís time, as a neighbourly gesture, for us to offer Morden, Winkler, Altona, Steinbach, Niverville, Carman, Portage la Prairie and Morris honourary citizenship in Northern Manitoba. Unless, of course, Morden and Winkler improbably beat us out in getting the 2014 Manitoba Winter Games. In that case, all bets are off.
You see, Emerson Progressive Conservative MLA Cliff Graydon is upset that Morden, Winkler, Altona, Steinbach, Niverville, Carman, Portage la Prairie and Morris didnít have a chance this year to weigh in at one of the six ďpre-budget consultation meetingsĒ Manitoba NDP Finance Minister Stan Struthers held, which wrapped up Jan. 25 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Ste. Anne, to give ďManitobans the chance to have their voices heard as the government works toward announcing the 2012 budget this spring,Ē Struthers said Jan. 9.
Graydon argues itís not good enough for residents of Morden, Winkler, Altona, Steinbach, Niverville, Carman, Portage la Prairie and Morris to be able to submit their comments only by e-mail or by sending regular mail via Canada Post. Struthers disagrees, saying having more meetings was not the answer. "We can't meet in every community," he said.
"People from these communities and Mr. Graydon can submit those ideas," he said. "Any Manitoban this year can have a say."
Graydon noted when the NDP announced their pre-budget consultations last month, they were scheduled for Winnipeg, Brandon, Thompson, Dauphin and Ste. Anne, all constituencies represented by NDP MLAs.
In a letter written to Struthers, Graydon asked why meetings werenít held in centres like Morden, Winkler, Altona, Steinbach, Niverville, Carman, Portage or Morris?
Struthers said the provincial government wants to get out to each part of the province, promising that other communities will be on the list for future years.
"Over the next number of years we want to get out to each of those regions," he said.
In Graydon's letter he included an invitation to Struthers to come to Altona, and host a pre-budget consultation meeting.
"I'm open to going to any community in the future," Struthers said.
Graydon said the lack of a meeting in his area of the province shows what the NDP really think of southern Manitobans' views. "We're ignored, we don't have a voice," he said. "Is it just the NDP ridings that are paying taxes?"
Graydon said this is simply another example of the NDP's lack of interest in the south.
"They've never held a budget meeting in Altona, and none that I know of in Winkler," he said.
"It's a way of going out and thanking the communities that supported them," he said. "But they did that at the public's expense."
Graydon said choosing which communities to go to isn't that hard.
He suggested dividing up the rural and city ridings and simply drawing a certain number out of a hat. That gives all 57 constituencies the same odds of hosting a pre budget consultation meeting.
On Aug. 27, 2007, pre-budget consultation meetings for 2008 were held at Duncan Wood Memorial Hall in Nelson House and the Steelworkers Hall in Thompson, hosted by Premier Greg Selinger, who was then serving as finance minister in the Doer cabinet. But meetings were also held Oct. 11, 2007 at Steinbach 55 Plus and the Royal Canadian Legion in Neepawa on Oct. 18, 2007, both of which were in the south last time we checked a map. Meetings were also held Oct. 24, 2007 in Portage la Prairie, as well as meetings in Brandon, St. Georges (bilingual English and French meeting with simultaneous translation) and Winnipeg. In 2008, the first pre-budget consultation meeting for the 2009 budget was held on Oct. 30, 2008 at the Red River Region Bilingual Service Centre in St-Pierre-Jolys (a bilingual meeting with simultaneous translation). St-Pierre-Jolys is still in the south, n'estĖce pas?
And we donít recall Steinbach, Neepawa or St-Pierre-Jolys having NDP MLAs, instead of Tory MLAs, in 2007 and 2008.
In January 2010, pre-budget consultation meetings for the 2010 budget were held at the Seine River Banquet Hall in Ste. Anne (bilingual presentation); the Caribbean Cultural Centre on Fife Street in Winnipeg; the Bronx Park Community Club on Henderson Highway in Winnipeg, as ell as the Keystone Centre in Brandon; Portuguese Cultural Centre on Young Street in Winnipeg; Holy Eucharist Parish Hall on Pacific Avenue in Selkirk; the Golden Agers Club at the Kin Centre on Ross Avenue in The Pas; and the Legion Room of the Veterans Community Hall on Sixth Avenue North in Swan River.
In October and November 2010, there were pre-budget consultation meetings for the 2011 budget in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson, but also at Chief Peter Beardy Memorial Hall on the Misipawistik Cree Nation at Grand Rapids; the Jolly Club in Ste. Rose Du Lac; St. Laurent Parish Hall in St. Laurent (bilingual presentation) and at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Lorette.
While itís oddly reassuring, albeit in a perhaps admittedly perverse way, to know itís not just Northern Manitobans who feel shutout of power sometimes Ė or even for a long time during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s PC reigns in Winnipeg Ė we think, judging on the NDPís record since 2007 anyway, Graydon is overreacting a bit this year to his perceived pre-budget consultation slight on behalf of Morden, Winkler, Altona, Steinbach, Niverville, Carman, Portage la Prairie and Morris.