Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition November 20, 2015
Laden with more than the average number of Westman offerings, the final throne speech prior to next spring’s provincial election was a spoil of riches for many in Manitoba as the embattled NDP strategizes that a “win by spending” plan will resonate with voters.
In what many pundits believe could end up being the final throne speech for the NDP government and the premier, Greg Selinger, through Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon, laid out a veritable table of offerings that included plenty of rehashed dollars sprinkled with enough new money to hopefully keep the wolves at bay for the foreseeable future.
Far from an austerity measure, this throne speech, which signifies direction from government, was made up of roughly 25 per cent new money combined with reannouncing many of initiatives already in the works. Plans like a further infrastructure fund in conjunction with the City of Winnipeg, as well as new child-care programming, were clearly the broadest strokes of the speech, with some of the honourable mentions coming Westman’s way as a result of the party’s revitalized direction for Manitobans.
On top of that non-recycled dough, clearly Brandon’s biggest win came as a result of the announcement that the long-sought new school slated for the city’s south end would get the green light. The need for a new K-8 school has been something front of mind for Brandon School Division trustees for a number of years and clearly could be ignored no longer. The government was somewhat short on the details, and more importantly timelines on the build or funding allotment, but a commitment of this nature is a good start and should remain no matter who forms government following the April 19 election.
Another nugget to come out of the throne speech with particular interest to education in Brandon was a commitment to furthering the move of Assiniboine Community College to the North Hill campus. Again short on real details or notice of timelines, this one frankly is a bit of a whitewash as to when the money will actually flow to allow the ACC team (which is champing at the bit) to hit the ground and further the move away from the east end to the North Hill.
The move, which now looks to be multi-generational in nature, has been an oft-promised second phase that has lacked at times the necessary financial commitment from government to see it through.
The college has done its due diligence in making sure every feasibility study and number is crunched on the project. The ball clearly remains in the province’s court and it needs to push on from promises and studies to tangible action.
Brandon’s appearances in the throne speech were rounded out with mentions that include the Daly Overpass expansion, the First Street Bridge revamp, student housing near Brandon University and more flood mitigation for the community — all of which are far from groundbreaking as many represent recycled messaging, something that is often the case with a speech from the throne.
One thing that cannot be overlooked, though, is the role Drew Caldwell played in this year’s speech. The longtime Brandon East MLA and municipal affairs minister
was rewarded somewhat handsomely for attaching his horse to the Selinger cart back in 2014. As many other MLAs sought to usurp the king during their failed coup, Caldwell remained loyal to Selinger, a fact that clearly cannot be downplayed when we look at the larger than average role our city played in the province’s plans.
To get Brandon dollars from a government that is bent on shoring up its position in Winnipeg is promising. Now the challenge will be whether these projects can move past the promise phase to the planning and ultimately the development phase in the upcoming provincial budget.
As for Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister and Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari, both may be left wondering where to take this. They obviously have their own vision and plan, but aside from sound bites and an alternate throne speech, neither seemed to seize the opportunity to dagger the government hard on its current direction. Perhaps a calculated move as PC brass attempt to soften Pallister’s image?
This government is often blamed for being almost blatantly urban Winnipeg-centred, but it may have presented just enough in this throne speech to provide a small glint of optimism for Brandon and area. As for the cost associated with that hint of optimism? Well, like many of the NDP’s other initiatives, it would appear that’s an announcement best left for another day and another time.