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Premier Greg Selinger

 
Premier Selinger Speaks with the Winnipeg Jewish Review about Life in Manitoba

Faith Kaplan, March 6, 2016

 

 

In response to an offer from the Premier’s office, I sat down with Greg Selinger on February 11th for a 30-minute visit.  We became acquainted on a Jewish Federation mission to Israel a number of years ago, and it was my pleasure to have an opportunity to catch up.  I forwarded a handful of questions to his office in advance of our meeting, and the Premier was typically well prepared. Here is an overview of our discussion.

 

The Department of National Defence issued a tender for renovation to military housing at Kapyong barracks, and I wanted to know whether the planned use would be for refugee housing. Since the DND is a federal agency, the Province isn’t privy to the plans for upgraded housing. However, the Province’s plan for refugee settlement is to keep all refugees, including newly arriving Syrian refugee families, out of hotels or similarly concentrated temporary housing.  150 individuals are arriving every two weeks and are being settled in private accommodations, with the hope that they will be in a position to take up permanent residence in Winnipeg and outside communities within a few months.  The goal is to avoid overconcentration in particular neighbourhoods, though people will settle where they can find appropriate housing.

 

I asked for a response to Manitobans who are concerned that these refugees are receiving preferential treatment over Manitobans who are homeless and refugees from other war torn countries. The Premier assured me that it wasn’t an “either or” situation, and that his government was committed to fostering a society that is inclusive, tolerant and respectful of diverse cultures. The goal is for Manitoba to accept 3000 Syrian refugees per year and we discussed the Province’s strategy to ensure that the Syrian refugees (who come from an overtly anti Israel and anti Semitic society) will be successfully integrated into Manitoban society. I specifically asked whether cultural tolerance/ interfaith/ anti-racism or anti-Semitism educational programming would be provided as part of the integration program. Manitoba currently takes in 1500 refugees a year who receive a “life in Manitoba” orientation that is designed to help them understand Canadian values, and Human Rights are part of that curriculum, as well as part of the public school curriculum. The Premier wasn’t aware whether or not anti-Semitism was part of that orientation. (Zach Fleisher, a member of his staff did get back to me and advised that the current Manitoba social studies curriculum is constructed to support development of the multi-cultural, multi-racial and pluralist democracy that is Canada, with specific units on the Shoah in Grades 6, 9, and 11.) The Premier did note that the most effective way to acclimatize newcomers to our culture is to get them settled and working. Currently, 80% of new immigrants remain in Manitoba, with family being the strongest recruiter to Manitoba, and the province is asking the federal government to increase the cap on immigration from 15,000 to 20,000 per year.

 

Our conversation shifted to an issue that I’ve wondered about for years - a guaranteed annual income program. Most of the pressing social issues we face as a province are related to poverty: violence, children in care, food security, health outcomes, educational outcomes, and homelessness. Furthermore, Manitoba’s Indigenous communities are economically disadvantaged and not equal participants in society. I wanted to know why a minimum income hadn’t been instituted to give everyone an equal footing. Premier Selinger holds a PhD in Social Work from the London School of Economics, and his response was interesting.  He stated that a minimum income would only address part of the challenge of developing productive citizens.  He referenced the Beveridge Report, which was published in the UK during World War Two and which identified five "Giant Evils" in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease, and proposed widespread reform to the system of social welfare to address these. Our schools and healthcare systems address ignorance and disease; the National Child Benefit and Rent Assist programs help address squalor and want. Welfare reform is ongoing to address income security and affordability, but the issue of idleness remains. The government’s response is to ensure that the population has the skills necessary to enter the labour market and find meaningful paid and unpaid work. In addition to funding our post secondary institutions to keep our tuition rates the lowest in Canada, people on Social Assistance can apply for training support for two years. As well, a greater effort to increase employment rates is underway – including efforts to get people on long-term disability back into the workforce. The Province offers an incentive for young Manitobans planning to leave after university to pursue opportunities elsewhere to remain at home in the form of a 60% income tax rebate on eligible tuition fees. Finally, there is a massive commitment to the Indigenous communities for education, economic growth funds, land use planning and Hydro project employment, and an assortment of economic development initiatives. The Premier further noted that a growing province with a diverse population is the best way to keep people in Manitoba. 

 

Clearly the cost to provide these programs has contributed to our provincial deficit.  When I asked why the obvious solution of reinstating balanced budget legislation hadn’t occurred, the Premier reminded me that when he was Manitoba’s Finance Minister he brought in 10 consecutive balanced budgets.  He suggested that given the economic crisis of 2008, the slow recovery, and the recent collapse of the oil markets the best way to improve our economy is an increased emphasis on employment, rather than austerity measures to balance the balance. Manitoba’s deficit is less than 1% of our GDP and growing our economy will eventually take us back into balance. Premier Selinger’s stated goal is an inclusive and diversified society focused on human rights and tolerance, where all Manitobans have an opportunity to be successful.

 

With a provincial election scheduled this spring, the question is whether a majority of Manitobans hold this view for our province and whether they believe the incumbent NDP is in the best position to deliver. Whichever party platform you support, be sure to get out and vote on April 19 – it’s our collective responsibility to elect a government that best reflects the will of the people. It’s also a great time for our community to get engaged in the democratic process by volunteering for an election campaign. It’s as easy as contacting your preferred candidate’s campaign office and asking how you can help out.

 
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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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