The April 19 election is fast approaching, and Manitoba NDP leader Greg Selinger spoke with the Thompson Citizen to highlight the NDP’s accomplishments for the last term, and provide some hints as to what Manitoba could expect from a renewed NDP government.
If one word were to describe Selinger’s plans for development in Northern Manitoba, it would be self-sufficiency: the ability for northerners to acquire an education, find employment, and access services within the north, while minimizing the need for costly transportation and government subsidies. “The single biggest thing that you can see in Thompson that demonstrates our commitment to the north is the University College of the North campus. It’s a state-of-the-art educational facility that’s been recognized for it’s architectural excellence, and it means that people in the north can get a post-secondary education in the north, and have housing for their families to go along with that, along with the daycare.” The NDP government contributed a rough sum of $84 million to the construction of the campus, including $400, 000 into its daycare facilities alone.
The new campus is the cornerstone of Selinger’s vision of economic development in the north, from expanding the pool of healthcare personnel to driving the construction of new hydro development. Many Thompsonites are already aware of the new trades centre to be constructed, in partnership with UCN, R. D. Parker Collegiate, and local industry leaders: “We’ve made a $14 million commitement for a new trades centre in the north; the Keeyask hydro project is currently underway, and the centre will allow us to train northerners to do those jobs. We have good support for apprenticeships, providing around $4,000 per student, and we’ve expanded our trade opportunities from about 2,000, to about 10,000. UCN is a part of that, along with employers and sector councils.”
But regardless of what students in the north are studying, Selinger notes that the NDP has provided several economic incentives to live and work not only in the north, but in Manitoba in general: “We’ve eliminated interest on provincial student loans, and anybody coming out of these programs, whether college or university, can claim up to 60 per cent of their tuition back as tax credits.”
But many remote communities in the province are facing more immediate concerns than long-term labour markets: as facilities expand in northern centers like Thompson, remote communities have until recently been cut off from supplies due to hazardous winter road conditions. Selinger notes that the province has already begun construction through the East Side Road Authority, while MP Steve Ashton announced in January that northern construction would begin with an all-weather road between War Lake and York Landing. Construction is hindered by a lack of federal funding, says Selinger. An NDP government would lobby federal authorities to fund all-weather road construction under the infrastructure stimulus packages promised by the Trudeau government.
Selinger’s government would also continue with plans to develop Manitoba Hydro for export, a plan which has been sharply criticized by the Progressive Conservative party as a plan that will cost the province more than it can potentially make. But Selinger holds fast to his confidence in Manitoba as a future hub for hydroelectric power: “The PCs have said we shouldn’t develop Hydro for export: that would sacrifice about $10 billion in export revenues, which helps pay off the cost of the new dams and transmission, and allows us to keep our rates as some of the lowest in North America.” Selinger notes that they’ve thus far secured contracts with Wisconsin and Minnesota, and will be upgrading existing power grids to fulfill a recently minted contract to supply power to Saskatchewan as well. “I’m also very supportive of the notion of a pan-Canadian power grid, that would allow us to supply hydro electricity both west and east of us, and help establish energy security for the country. I think there’s interest in that at the federal level.”
Finally, healthcare: Selinger notes that cancer care for northerners to continue to be a priority for the NDP. “We just announced a major commitment to Cancer Care Manitoba for a state-of-the-art research and development facility, as well as making free cancer drugs available to Manitobans in the last four years, which makes a big difference in allowing people to stay in their homes and communities while getting the cancer care they need.” Along with drug subsidies, the NDP has been working with local health authorities to establish regional cancer care hubs throughout the province, one of which was recently approved here in Thompson.
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