A day before Premier Brian Pallister’s visited Thompson, residents aired their grievances about the provincial government during a March 17 town hall meeting.
This get-together took place at the United Steelworkers Local 6166 Steel Centre and featured city officials, union leaders, federal representatives and everyday citizens, all looking to voice their displeasure with the Progressive Conservative’s lack of support for Northern Manitobans.
But the participants did not include Thompson Progressive Conservative MLA Kelly Bindle, whose name was brought up several times to illustrate the province’s neglect of northern interests.
Mayor Colleen Smook and city councillor Les Ellsworth said they were both frustrated with Bindle’s lack of desire to relay their concerns to the Manitoba legislature, with the latter claiming that the MLA doesn’t even seem interested in meeting with them a lot of the time.
“You can’t find the sucker!” said Ellsworth. “I offered to put my own money up to put Kelly’s picture on a milk carton. Where are you?”
Thompson Teachers’ Association president Cathy Pellizzaro also expressed disappointment following a recent meeting with Bindle, who repeated the province’s claim that school funding is going up.
However, Pellizzaro maintains her stance that the province’s funding increments amount to cuts, since they’ve been below the rate of inflation over the last three years.
“The province keeps saying, ‘We’re giving everybody an increase,’” she said. “How can you give everybody an increase when we can’t afford [educational assistants] in the classroom, we can’t afford extra resources, we can’t afford to help all our complex needs students?”
Other talking points throughout the rest of Sunday’s meeting ranged from the province’s cuts to infrastructure, health care and the increasing privatization of industries north of the 53rd parallel.
Ellsworth decided to open up old wounds by mentioning the province’s refusal to grant Thompson access to the Mining Community Reserve Fund (MCRF) in spite of Vale’s 400 local job losses back in 2018.
Last August, Pallister said the province couldn’t give out any money from that fund because the previous NDP government let it drop below the minimum $10 million threshold, even though the MCRF held a balance of $11,257,500 in June.
“If the government is not prepared to help communities like Thompson, like Flin Flon and others that have paid 40, 50, 60 years into this fund, and we can’t get any money from it, then this is what should happen … the money should stop flowing to the provincial government and start flowing to the municipality where we can help our community,” said Ellsworth.
Churchill—Keewatinook Aski MP Niki Ashton, having just spent a week on the road visiting places like York Landing, Thicket Portage and Nelson House, said this government’s neglect also extends to communities outside of Thompson.
“The stories that people have about the way in which the provincial government is working against them are shocking,” she said. “Stories upon stories about the way in which people have challenges with northern patient transportation … major challenges with Manitoba Housing and the way housing is being disregarded increasingly by this provincial government.”
Former Thompson NDP MLA Steve Ashton said the north should be getting a lot more support from the province and doesn’t deserve to be treated like “a laboratory for their right-wing ideology.”
“We produce a lot of the wealth that comes out of this province right here in Northern Manitoba, and we deserve something back when we’re facing difficult times,” he said. “What we don’t need is privatization. What we don’t need are cuts. What we do need is somebody to stand up for us.”