Where’s the Value in Brian Pallister’s HealthCare Plan?

Despite promises to maintain frontline services, the Pallister government has managed to make healthcare accessible to fewer and fewer Manitobans.  From closures to emergency rooms and urgent care clinics in low income neighbourhoods, to the elimination of in-hospital physiotherapy and occupational therapy and the closure of the Victoria Hospital Mature Women’s Centre, it’s near impossible to imagine where the value is in the Pallister governments health care plan.  

While it’s a challenge to keep track of the relentless attack,Value Manitoba will attempt to do just that.  The following is a list of changes and cuts we’ve identified to date; we’re not offering any deeper analysis here although we do provide links to various media articles, opinion pieces to provide context. No doubt as time marches on, there will be much more to say about how these cuts are affecting Manitobans, and we will endeavour to weigh in as we learn more.

We will update the list as more changes/cuts are announced. Here is what we have so far.  

September 2016

November  2016

December  2016:

January 2017:

  •  The Health Minister announces that the St. Boniface QuickCare Clinic on St. Mary’s Road will close.
  • Manitoba Home Care Program name change raises concerns about privatization

February 2017:

  •   Pallister cancels over (what they claim) is $1 billion in health care infrastructure projects.
  •   Cancelled projects include:
    • A new facility for CancerCare Manitoba ($300M);
    • A personal care home in Lac Du Bonnet (est. $32M) and a complete turn around on his campaign promise to provide 1200 new personal care beds for Manitoba’s aging population;
    • St. Vital primary care ACCESS clinic ($4.7M);
    • The Pas primary care clinic ($3.5M);
    • A new facility for Pan Am Clinic;
    • Concordia Wellness Centre; and
    • An international centre for dignity and palliative care.

March 2017:

April 2017:

May 2017:

June 2017:

July  2017:

August 2017:

Position deletion letters to be sent to 500 nurses.  Will they be moved to “new jobs” as promised? And what will those jobs look like?

September 2017:

Premier Pallister considers health care premium

Health Sciences Centre restructures – eliminates healthcare aides and support staff positions

October 2017:

Misericordia Hospital closes 

Brian Pallister promises no health care premium in “current term”

November 2017:

Funding to Personal Care Homes cut

Province freezes funding to City for Ambulance services

Manitoba Housing units left vacant while homelessness soars

CBC recently published two stories about two different vacant buildings owned by Manitoba Housing that once housed some of our province’s most vulnerable citizens. These vacant buildings could house around 400 people. But one building, located on downtown’s Smith Street, has been sitting vacant for almost a year now, and the other for two years. The Province has not confirmed if any other buildings are currently unoccupied.

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This news is alarming once you learn that 7,500 new rental housing units are needed just to house Winnipeg’s homeless population (see page 48 of The Plan to End Homelessness in Winnipeg). Further, the Pallister government has yet to make any commitment around building new social housing.

If the Province is not going to build any new housing, it should at least make use of its existing assets. The 373 bachelor units in the Smith property could be meeting the needs of one of the most under-served groups – single individuals tend to wait the longest for public housing as families are given first priority.

The Province says that both buildings require significant repairs. But one building was housing refugees as recently as nine months ago and the other property has already received $4.3M dollars in repairs. So it’s not clear what further work needs to be done to make the buildings habitable. Whatever it amounts to, the Province should take advantage of the current opportunity to leverage the federal dollars that are available for repairing and restoring social housing.

For now, the required investments are on hold. According to the CBC reports, the Pallister government says it is undergoing a provincial review of Manitoba Housing and that it is working on a ‘modernized provincial housing plan.’

So what can we expect to see in this new plan? Time will tell. Budget 2017 signaled that the Pallister government will have a much smaller capital program this year – meaning it is expected to invest fewer resources in building new and repairing existing Manitoba Housing units.

The Pallister government also reduced its transfer to Manitoba Housing by $20M. How will the corporation make up this difference? Will it sell its assets? Or raise rents for people who are in core housing need? Neither option is appealing.

The Province has already transferred its management responsibilities for 66 publicly-owned housing units in Winkler to a community-based non-profit, so we wouldn’t be surprised if the next step transferred ownership of the asset from Manitoba Housing to the non-profit. A recent audit of BC’s asset transfer program highlights how the program has put the long-term sustainability of affordable housing in BC at risk, and should act as a warning to the Pallister government.

So it sounds like the future of the two vacant Manitoba Housing units will remain unknown until the Province completes its review of Manitoba Housing. Meanwhile, thousands of Manitobans including women escaping domestic violence, youth exiting out of the care of Child and Family Services, and newly arrived refugees or asylum seekers will continue to be threatened with homelessness.

 

Door opened for P3s in Manitoba

Until very recently, Manitoba has been somewhat sheltered from the scourge of Public Private Partnerships (P3s) that have hit other parts of Canada. But Pallister’s government let that genie completely out of the bottle with the announcement that 4 new schools would be “P3d”. This link explains what’s going on in Manitoba and why it’s not anything to celebrate. It also explains that getting rid of the P3 legislation that the NDP brought in is a really bad idea.

Bad idea or not,  as this CBC blog explains, on May 2, 2017 Pallister endorsed the funding model  at a conference in Winnipeg on P3s:

Pallister said Manitoba was well behind the rest of the country on this funding model for public works, noting there have been 56 such projects in Canada since 2012, but only three here.

“We’re playing catch-up,” Pallister said. “We are not that innovative here.

“We have to go beyond typical taxpayer funding,” Pallister told the crowd.

Pallister says Manitoba will follow the Saskatchewan lead in using P3s to build schools. Our neighbouring province claims it will save $100 million using a P3 model.

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To say that’s a leap of faith is an understatement; the schools haven’t even been started yet (as of May, 2017). It’s hard to know exactly what evidence our Premier is relying on, especially since P3ing schools in Alberta and Nova Scotia was such a disaster (see first and last links in this article).

Why are P3s such a powerful force in Canada despite the lack of evidence that they work in the public interest? Just check out this advertisement for the May 2nd conference and see who’s behind them.

As this story demonstrates, lots of experts remain unconvinced.

So what is it exactly we’re catching up to, Mr. Pallister?

Art and Honour of the Crown

After the dust, damage and self-congratulation around last week’s Conservative Budget has settled, we’ll each be left with our own take on that document, on what it does and what it fails to do for our various communities. The tone deaf closures of emergency facilities in North Winnipeg and the removal of the Misericordia Urgent Care are perhaps the most egregious flash points, but for me, as a former Winnipeg Art Gallery board member, there is another that is hugely disappointing.

Actions (and non-actions) can be a “tell”, revealing the character of individuals and organizations. The failure, after a full year in office, to commit to the WAG’s “Inuit Art and Learning Center” gives us a measure of Pallister and company. The WAG’s project planning for the Inuit Center has been underway for years now, with ongoing private sector fundraising, and architects selected, already in 2012. The previous Government committed $15 million to the project in November 2015 and the City of Winnipeg followed with a $5 million pledge in 2016. The Federal Government joined with its $15 million commitment later last year. Private sector funding commitments are approaching $20 million, but some are tied to expected Provincial funding and could now be at risk. If one were truly looking for “value for money”, one couldn’t expect much better leverage than this for public funding. The Federal contribution is also time-bound and at risk without the Provincial commitment.

So-called value for money and return on investment audits risk misunderstanding the nature of the project. The economic benefits have long been recognized: from the tourism enhancement of properly displaying what is now the preeminent Inuit Art collection in North America; a superb architectural addition to the iconic WAG building and Winnipeg’s downtown; the international educational opportunities for the gallery and the adjacent University of Winnipeg; the demonstration that innovation and the creative and cultural sectors are valued in this province; and, not least, the recognition of the cultural and economic linkages to Manitoba’s Arctic face and Nunavut.

Other than economic reasons however, there are deeper issues now at play, issues that cut to the heart of who we are and which may not have been as evident previously. Since the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s “Call to Action” report, one might say that the Honour of the Crown is at issue and that honouring the Provincial pledges would be a gesture of reconciliation with respect to Manitoba and Canada’s relationship with the Inuit. The Commission’s report sections on Education, Language and Culture, and Museums and Archives are pertinent here and ought to inform any ongoing “audits”.

To repudiate the Provincial pledge at this late date would be disrespectful of the significant donations of the George Swinton, Jerry Twomey, Faye and Bert Settler, and Richardson families, among others, which have enabled the WAG’s Inuit Art collection to achieve the status it has today. When the previous Government made its financial commitment it did so on behalf of all Manitobans, as did Mayor Bowman on behalf of all the people of Winnipeg, the Federal Government on behalf of all Canadians, and private donors on their own and their organization’s behalf. To disrespect these prior commitments by reneging on Manitoba’s participation would put other pledges and the Inuit Art Center at risk and would shame us all.

An edited version of this opinion piece by Sig Laser appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on April 24th

The No News is Bad News Budget

The Conservatives may have managed to avoid a nuclear event, but don’t be fooled; there will be lots of fallout in the days ahead. We’ll keep you posted.

For now, This blog on CBC nicely captures what yesterday’s budget means for Manitobans, and it includes links to relevant background information.  This analysis by the the Canadian Community Economic Development Network  looks more specifically at priorities identified by community organizations.

Brian Pallister’s Scissors: The Sad Saga Continues

In an earlier post Value Manitoba listed a number of changes made by the Pallister government in recent months.  In this post we build on that list, further bringing into question who will benefit from Brian Pallister’s vision of “the most improved province in Canada.”


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The attack on working people and universally accessible front-line services continues.

Jobs:

  • Labour legislation has been weakened—worker protections gutted and unions are being undermined
  • Minimum wage has been frozen indefinitely while cost of living continues to grow
  • Good jobs are being cut:
    • 112 senior government positions have been eliminated
    • 900 jobs to be cut from Manitoba Hydro
    • 15% of the workforce at Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries as well as Manitoba Public Insurance to be cut  “as a starting point”

Brian Pallister previously made clear his intentions to freeze wages and open up (previously negotiated and agreed upon) collective agreements.  He seems to have backed off on opening existing agreements, but he will be interfering in workers’ right to engage in collective bargaining around wages.  The new plan outlined in Bill 28, will allow the Province to freeze wages for two years, and cap increases to.75 and 1.00 in years 3 and 4.

Mandatory reduced work with legislation similar to that which gave us ‘Filmon Fridays’ back in the 1990s, has yet to materialize, but we should keep a watch on this.

Capital projects cut:

As previously noted, this is another big hit for our economy. Seniors, the sick, and skilled trades people are particularly hard hit when previously approved projects such these are cancelled:

  • Lac Du Bonnet personal care home
  • Thompson Northern Consultation Clinic
  • St. Vital Primary Care Access Clinic
  • St. Boniface Blood Bank
  • The Pas Primary Care Clinic
  • New CancerCare Manitoba facility

Child Care:

Families and the economy both suffer when safe and affordable childcare is not a priority. Wait lists for childcare in Manitoba are again on the rise. Yet the Pallister governments  freeze on capital grants means that over a dozen not-for-profit organizations cannot proceed with their plans to expand to meet the needs of Manitoba families. There are now over 15000 names on childcare wait lists, up from 12000 just a few years ago.

In March the Pallister government announced the creation of 739 new childcare spaces. However, many of these spaces were previously announced by the NDP government in 2015 and 2016.  Polling has shown that childcare continues to be  a priority for Manitobans so it will be important to watch how the Pallister government responds to continued calls for universally accessible childcare.

Community services:

Many community non-profit service providers have yet to receive confirmation of continued funding.  As a result, some have begun to layoff employees. For example, LITE recently laid off the Coordinator of the Social Purchasing Portal (SPP), a program that created 49 jobs last year with the $40,000 the Province invested. That’s seems pretty good value for money at $800/job.

As described in this CCPA Fast Facts, community-based non-profit organizations provide critical services—yes the kinds of front line services Brian Pallister promised to maintain—to some of the most vulnerable Manitobans. And they do so at a relatively low cost.  One would think that this form of service delivery would be ideologically appealing to the Pallister government (provided mainly by non-unionized low wage workers) so maybe, just maybe, these services will escape Pallister’s Scissor Hands.

New Canadians:

See our post by Anthony Huynh regarding changes to Manitoba’s Provincial Nominee Program that will make it increasingly difficult for “skilled worker” applicants wishing to come to Manitoba.

Poverty:

What we’ve heard from Pallister so far leads us to believe that there will be more reliance on what Pallister describes as “generous Manitobans”, and mainly through  Social Impact Bonds. In case you’re wondering, that’s code for cuts to government supports and greater reliance on charity. Stay tuned for more on Pallisters ‘plan’ (or lack of) to address poverty.

Privatization

Talking about Social Impact Bonds reminds us that these are also a way to bring in more private sector players: Public Private Partnerships (P3s). Bill 24 (explained below) which is ostensibly meant to ‘cut red tape’ is removing P3 legislation brought in by the last government. This link explains more; suffice to say here that removal of the legislation will make contracts with the private sector less transparent so tax payers will not know if they’re getting value for their money. Here’s a spoiler: they’re not.

Education:

So far the Pallister government has revealed a couple of things that cause concern.  It plans to remove the cap on class size, making it more difficult for teachers to provide quality education in increasingly complex and diverse classrooms.  It also plans to boost tuition fees upward of 5%, making post secondary education less accessible to Manitoba students.  The Pallister government also recently announced the cancellation of a $6.7 million expansion of the Kelvin High School Gym, a capital project for which the community worked hard to raise $1.2 million as a demonstration of its commitment to the project.

Healthcare:

There are a number of issues to watch on the healthcare front.  On April 7th the Province announced the closure of 3 emergency rooms in Winnipeg and Minister Goertzen promises the “biggest healthcare revamp in a generation”.  It is notable that Wnnipeg’s most vulnerable will be particularly hard hit by changes—putting further pressure on the Health Science Centre as the closest emergency room available to individuals living in the inner city and north of the railroad tracks.

One also can’t help but wonder if the expansion of  private for-profit clinics offering fee for service home visits by Nurse Practitioners, does not figure prominently in the Pallister government’s plan. Rather than focusing on service for those who can afford to pay, the provincial government should ensure that nurse practitioners are working within the non-profit system to ensure that all Manitobans have access to their much needed services. We’ll need to keep a close eye on further private for profit healthcare initiatives as the Pallister government continues to ‘test’ what it can get away with.

Environment and Sustainable Development:

Under the guise of cutting “red tape”, in one short year, the Pallister Government continues to undercut hard won gains with respect to Environmental protections:

  • Protected lands (Islands in Lake Winnipegosis) protected for the last 15 years, opened up for mineral exploration.
  • Woodland caribou -missing federally required deadlines for the completion of action plans under The Species At Risk Act — Instead of 15 caribou action plans in place by October, the government says they’ll get five done in 2018.
  • Refusing to sign the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, and using it as blackmail in its misguided hold-out on the Heath Accord.
  • Lack of constitutionally mandated consultation with First Nations communities.
  • Changes to regulations for hog producers building barns and sewage lagoons, and less onerous reporting conditions for public and semi-public drinking water suppliers.
  • This reference explains how Bill 24,  the Red Tape Reduction and Government Efficiency Act, will negatively affect water quality in Manitoba. This “omnibus bill” affecting 15 statutes, will amend the  Drinking Water Act, loosening the  monitoring and regulatory regime for water. Changes to the regulation of livestock pens and manure management have may worried about an increase in water contamination.

Having changed the name of the Department from “Conservation and Water Stewardship” to “Sustainable Development”, this government would be well advised to actually read its own Sustainable Development Act and its various guidelines and regulations. The Act requires significant Environmental protection and balancing any development with a healthy environment. So far all Manitobans see is a dangerous and a lop-sided imbalance.

This is just a taste of what’s to come. In the days following Tuesday’s budget, there are likely to be many more so-called  ‘improvements’ revealed. 

Bicycle Rides and Reconciliation: An open letter to Premier Pallister

In an earlier post, Value Manitoba shared concerns about Premier Pallister’s plan to cycle to Peguis First Nation as a “gesture of reconciliation”. Manitobans have now been invited to join the Premier “in this mission of friendship by writing a letter to Manitoba’s Indigenous peoples, expressing your gratitude for the vital role they played in the formation of our province”.

Value Manitoba decided it most appropriate to address our letter to Premier Pallister.

Dear Premier Pallister:

Congratulations on the recent announcement of your bicycle trip to Peguis First Nation. Manitobans are forever indebted to the members of Pequis and all first peoples of this land that we occupy. Indeed we owe them thanks. But more important, we owe Indigenous people action toward change.

Chief Peguis may have befriended and signed a treaty with the Selkirk settlers, but he later became disillusioned when the treaty was dishonoured.

While it is a pleasant gesture to deliver thanks, these words ring hollow unless followed by concrete action. A significant course of action would be to announce, upon your arrival in Pequis First Nation, that your government will demonstrate Manitobans thanks by actively responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action —implementing those specific actions that fall under the provincial government’s mandate.

The TRC describes specific policy and program actions that the provincial government must take “to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” For example, it outlines specific actions for governments in the area of Child Welfare, Education, Languages and Culture, Health, and Justice.

We are concerned that not only has your government failed to make a concrete commitment to implement the TRC Calls to Action, you have demonstrated on a number of occasions that you have some personal “truth and reconciliation” work of your own to do. For example, in January you stirred up racial division in Virden Manitoba when you stated that divisions over indigenous hunting rights are “becoming a race war.” You declined to apologize for that comment. Soon after this you were quoted in Maclean’s magazine as having said “Young Indigenous men — a preponderance of them are offenders, with criminal records — are going off shooting guns in the middle of the night. It doesn’t make sense.” You have denied making that statement but Macleans magazine has publicly stated it stands by the article.

These comments inspired University of Manitoba Native Studies professor Niigaan Sinclair to offer you an opportunity to participate in a process of truth and reconciliation through education. In an interview with CBC, Professor Sinclair gave you the benefit of the doubt noting that “the comment demonstrates ignorance about Indigenous issues resulting from a “flawed education” on the subject.”

He noted: “While Indigenous kids in residential schools were taught that they were savage and they were heathens and they were violent, Canadians were taught the exact same thing and they were taught to feel superior, and that they had a sort of duty to control Indigenous people in every way,” he said. “The words of the Premier are really in the vein of that history.”

Dr. Sinclair graciously invited you to attend his class. To our knowledge, you have yet to respond.

As the Premier of Manitoba, it is incumbent upon you to show leadership by acknowledging the truth about our colonial history and by entering into a process of reconciliation. Thank you is not enough. You must acknowledge the deeply damaging policies that non indigenous governments of all political stripes have imposed on Indigenous people and demonstrate that your government aims to make amends by advocating for the 94 calls to action and implementing those that are within its power.

Students Say “NO” to the Pallister Government’s Tuition Hikes

Over the past two years, I have had the great pleasure of working with and representing students in Manitoba. While serving as the provincial chairperson of the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Federation of Students, I’ve heard many concerns, experiences, and anxieties from students.

My role, primarily, involves listening.

Listening to students at the University of Manitoba dealing with the impact of three years of sustained budget cuts. Listening to international students across the province concerned with rapidly rising differential fees. Listening to Indigenous students whose communities fear they will be forced to send fewer students to post-secondary due to rising fees.

Time and time again, I hear the same message: rising tuition fees will only create larger, more insurmountable barriers to accessing Manitoba’s post-secondary education system.

The only piece of legislation that provides some sort of tuition predictability and protection is now being drastically altered. On Monday, the government announced that the cap would now be increased to allow tuition increases of five per cent above the rate of inflation.

Hiking tuition fees would be a step backwards for Manitoba.

When students gathered on the steps of the legislature on Nov. 2, demanding our federal and provincial governments take decisive and meaningful action on the elimination of tuition fees, provincial finance minister Cameron Friesen said we were “fear-mongering.” Not wanting to add to our fears of spiked tuition, Friesen said that “we [the government] understand that affordability matters to students and Manitobans.”

If students truly had nothing to fear and the province understood that affordability mattered to students and their families, it would immediately protect and expand current legislation on post secondary tuition to include all students, including international, professional, and college students, all of whose tuition remains unpredictable and unregulated. It is unjust that these students’ education remains so volatile because of sporadic fee increases.

Small increases to scholarships and bursaries are not enough, especially in light of tuition hikes. Manitoba needs a comprehensive, holistic plan to open the doors of post-secondary education to anyone who wants to attend, beginning with ensuring the provincial tuition cap is applied to all students.

Post-secondary education has immense benefits for our economy, culture, and society at large. An educated society is healthier, reducing costs for the health care system and increasing societal well-being. Education reduces poverty and decreases dependence on social assistance. Education leads to lower levels of crime and increased participation in arts and culture. It will only serve to improve our province to make accessible education a priority.

For me, it has been both inspiring and downright depressing to hear the stories of the high cost of post-secondary education for Manitoba students. I would recommend the government listen to the diversity of students studying in the province, and hear the stories of what hiking the fees will mean for the future for students and for Manitoba.

Fortunately, Manitoba students are listening – to each other.

We are organizing, ready to say no to tuition hikes and yes to a positive vision for education in this province. Every Thursday, from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. in the U of M Arts Student Lounge, students are meeting and planning for action. Anyone is welcome to join. Together, students can defeat fee hikes and education cuts and build a province that values education for all.

Michael Barkman is the chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba.

Wow! Brian Pallister really IS running with scissors!

Brian Pallister has returned from his tropical paradise well rested with scissors sharpened.

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Value Manitoba is trying to keep a tally of the measures that (supposedly) will make Manitoba the “most improved province in Canada”.  It’s a bit of challenge though. The attack on working people and front-line services has escalated and announcements of cuts are coming fast and furious.

Here is what we’ve got so far.

Jobs:

  • Labour legislation has been weakened—worker protections gutted and unions are being undermined
  • Minimum wage has been frozen indefinitely while cost of living continues to grow
  • Good jobs are being cut:
    • 112 senior government positions have been eliminated
    • 900 jobs to be cut from Manitoba Hydro
    • 15% of the workforce at Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries as well as Manitoba Public Insurance to be cut  “as a starting point”

In addition to the above, Brian Pallister has made his intentions clear – he aims to freeze wages and open up (previously negotiated and agreed upon) collective agreements, in the face of existing court decisions.  This could mean wage, benefit and pension cuts to teachers, nurses and government workers, as well as mandatory reduced work with legislation similar to that which gave us ‘Filmon Fridays’ back in the 1990s.

Capital projects cut:

This is another big hit for our economy. Seniors, the sick, and skilled trades people are particularly hard hit when previously approved projects such these are cancelled:

  • Lac Du Bonnet personal care home
  • Thompson Northern Consultation Clinic
  • St. Vital Primary Care Access Clinic
  • St. Boniface Blood Bank
  • The Pas Primary Care Clinic
  • New CancerCare Manitoba facility

Child Care:

Families and the economy both suffer when safe and affordable childcare is not a priority. Wait lists for childcare in Manitoba are again on the rise. Yet the Pallister governments  freeze on capital grants means that over a dozen not-for-profit organizations cannot proceed with their plans to expand to meet the needs of Manitobans. There are now over 15000 names on childcare wait lists, up from 12000 just a few years ago.

Community services:

Many community non-profit service providers have yet to receive confirmation of continued funding.  As described in this CCPA Fast Facts, these organizations provide critical services—yes the kinds of front line services Brian Pallister promised to maintain—to some of the most vulnerable Manitobans. And they do so at a relatively low cost.  One would think that this form of service delivery would be ideologically appealing to the Pallister government (provided mainly by non-unionized low wage workers) so maybe, just maybe, these services will escape Pallister’s Scissor Hands.

Newcomers:

See our post by Anthony Huynh regarding changes to Manitoba’s Provincial Nominee Program that will make it increasingly difficult for “skilled worker” applicants wishing to come to Manitoba.

Poverty:

What we’ve heard from Pallister so far leads us to believe that there will be more reliance on what Pallister describes as “generous Manitobans”.  In case you’re wondering, that’s code for cuts to government supports. Stay tuned for more on Pallisters ‘plan’ (or lack of) to address poverty.

Education:

So far the Pallister government has revealed a couple of things that cause concern.  It plans to remove the cap on class size, making it more difficult for teachers to provide quality education in increasingly complex and diverse classrooms.  It also plans to boost tuition fees upward of 5%, making post secondary education less accessible to Manitoba students.

Manitobans better brace themselves, as there are likely many more so-called  ‘improvements’ coming in what is increasingly looking to be the 2017 austerity budget.