As the provincial election campaign continues, Thompson’s Progressive Conservative candidate Kelly Bindle presented his party’s platform to the Thompson Chamber of Commerce meeting March 30, and took questions from those in attendance.
Introducing himself as a man who has lived most of his life in Manitoba, Bindle’s initial presentation hit on all of the north’s keynote concerns. Bindle’s platform is largely Pallister’s platform: if there’s one thing the PC party has been keen to maintain, it’s a unified message. But Pallister’s message of fiscal restraint is no doubt a tough sell for many northerners, accustomed as they are from feeling the brunt of cutbacks in favour of the urban south. But Bindle stressed that PC cuts wouldn’t be about cutting services, but cutting out bloat: “We’ll bring common sense back through government that values your money, that eliminates wasteful spending and invests it in priorities that matter to northerners. Northerners need a government that respects frontline workers and the services they provide.” Bindle pledged that fiscal efficiency would not come at the expense of frontline services and the workers that provide them.
Bindle also noted the role of Manitoba’s aboriginal population, and the need for meaningful consultation with both aboriginal and Métis peoples. “Personally, I was born in Thompson, but I’m a second-generation white settler: my parents were born in Canada, but their parents were not. The indigenous people have been here over hundreds of generations, yet they’re kept down by institutionalized racism that has been subconsciously internalized by our institutions and many non-aboriginal persons.” Bindle himself spoke out against the historic misapplication of terra nullius and the doctrine of discovery, a topic recently discussed by Thompson’s city council. “It’s a terrible injustice, and I feel like it’s my duty to take advantage of my opportunities offered to me and help these people. We can give them the help that they need and deserve.”
With Bindle’s presentation’s proximity to CBC’s Disability Matters debate, the Juniper Centre’s Rachel Templeton asked what a PC government hoped to do to improve accessibility for disabled residents. Bindle brought it back to economic potential: “If you can invest money into making everything accessible, then that opens doors to making employment accessible. We have to be completely barrier-free, and we’re striving towards that.”
Bindle also piqued interest with his promise of 1,200 additional care beds across Manitoba: indeed, it was among the issues which Bindle spoke passionately about in his presentation, citing a friend and his aging mother who have been navigating the care system over the last few years: “Her homecare hours were cut back to 15 minutes a day. It’s not the homecare workers’ fault. Because they care very much; they’re just under-resourced and overworked. She was lucky that she had a son to pick up the slack in the system and care for her, but many don’t, and they don’t know that the system is like this until it’s too late, and they’re left without care.”
While he couldn’t say for certain how many beds would be allocated to the north, he promised he would take a strong stand on the issue: “Obviously Thompson needs them, and I’m going to fight for it. I want to retire here, my mom wants to retire here, but that’s the problem with the northern economy: people want to stay, but they can’t, because of care beds and other resources.”
Penny Byer, a member of Thompson’s council and a co-ordinator involved with the construction of the Lions Seniors Manor, which received provincial funding earlier this year, noted that the current provincial tendering process failed to take advantage of local labour and economy: “It’s so hard to get local contractors here. We can demonstrate that it’s far cheaper to build per square foot using local contractors, and one of our biggest confrontations has been regarding that cost, no matter what documentation we give them.” Citing the example of projects undertaken by Manitoba Hydro, Byer added, “I can’t even begin to think what other projects in the north are losing out on jobs and developing skills and trades, because the province’s procurement policies aren’t conducive to giving us that work.”
Bindle said earlier that tendering reform was a key element in the PC platform along with making contracts more available to small businesses. As for Manitoba Hydro, Bindle noted that the policies for local hiring already existed – they just weren’t being used. “The policies are there right now in [Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation], they’re just being bypassed through Manitoba Hydro. The government is tendering in partnership with Hydro, and single sourcing to the highest bidder. That’s what we have to get rid of. That’s why we’re bringing in policies of accountability in tendering.”
Byer also brought up the issue of bureaucratic centralization under the NDP, noting provincial services were being increasingly terminated in the north and moved south. “Right now, we have no one for employment, for residential tenancy, nor a health inspector. People have retired or moved on, and their position has not been filled locally, to the detriment of residents, landlords, educators, and everyone else.”
Fred Palmer also echoed Byer’s concerns, from the perspective of the regional health authorities: “There are communities whose doctors’ contracts were not renewed, who wanted to find a contract and build a house in those little communities. The purpose being, if the doctor is gone, we can close that hospital, and now have everything run out of a larger one. I think that whole program needs to be reviewed.”
For government positions, Bindle promised he would do everything he could: “With every person that leaves, they bring their children, or their grandparents, and we lose more people. It appears to be a method of control; if they can keep all of the people down south, then they can control them all. We have enough trouble encouraging people to move up here and work, and they’re eliminating those jobs. So I’m going to fight to keep those jobs, and bring back the ones we lost.”
As far as doctors went, Bindle noted that the problem is greater than just bureaucratic reform, and focused on issues that would bring in more skilled private-sector workers overall: “A lot of the reason they’re leaving is that the current government is targeting high-income people, taxing them more and giving them problems,” he said. “If we can get economic development here, and invest in recreation for the families that come with them, it all ties in. We have to have infrastructure, we have to have recreation, and we have to have employment.”
As a leading figure in the Thompson Wildlife Association, Palmer also noted a sad state of affairs surrounding the province’s conservation department, saying that the current government has been failing to take recommendations from the department into consideration: “Our people are so marginalized here, I’m surprised we have conservation officers at all, that they haven’t just quit. Even with our wildlife memberships and hunting licences, there’s a portion of those dollars that is supposed to go back into game research and counts here in the north. We know this isn’t happening.”
Bindle reaffirmed Palmer’s concerns, in terms of conservation: “The current government’s policy is to do a study, not follow the recommendations of the study to avoid the problem, have the problem occur, then commission another study. We’re going to get rid of that: we’ve already talked to Fisheries in the Interlake region about modifying things that limit them from economic development.”
Ultimately, Bindle noted he was running because the PC party had given him the opportunity to speak for the north personally. “The party had approached me. I sat down with them and asked, well, what are your policies for the north? They said, well, you’re going to have to talk to people in the north, and let us know the issues. We’re not from there: you are. But don’t do it if you don’t think you can make a difference. So I drank the punch.”
“I don’t have to tell you this: people generally despise politicians, and politics in general,” Bindle said. “Unfortunately, if you don’t get involved in politics, you will be governed by those who do, and I no longer wish to be governed by these guys, because I know there is a better way. I’m running because I believe that I’m in a position to make life better for everyone in the north.”