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Immigration, Indigenous People & Infrastructure — Premier’s speech gives away key re-election plans

Election-talk at the State of the Province Address

In what was very much a campaign-style speech, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger used the annual State of the Province Address to try to set apart the policies of his NDP government from the opposition parties as we move toward the April election.

“We have a decision to make — which direction we’re going to take for the future,” Selinger said. “I believe our government, and leadership of people like myself, provides the best plan for the future of the province.”

Selinger delivered the speech December 15 at the State of the Province Address hosted by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce at the RBC Convention Centre in Winnipeg. MTS was a presenting sponsor of the event.

“We have to be willing to take it to the next level,” he told the lunchtime crowd of 900-plus. “You never get elected on what you’ve done yesterday. You have to have a plan for the future, and we do have that plan. It’s an open-ended plan that allows for the input of all the people of Manitoba as we go forward.”

While Selinger did offer up general plans to boost the Manitoba economy through increased Manitoba Hydro sales in Canada, infrastructure spending to the tune of over $10 billion over the next five-plus years, innovation, growing tourism and boosting the population of small centres, he also touted his government’s record on jobs.

“Our bottom line is to protect the future of Manitobans by making sure young people have jobs,” Selinger told the crowd.

“We do have the best job-creation record in the country, and that’s at a time when employment hasn’t fully recovered from the great recession.”

Selinger contrasted the NDP’s plans with those of the opposition Tories.

“I say to you that the opposition’s plan doesn’t cut it,” Selinger said. “A plan that focuses on cuts as a way forward, I believe, does not serve the needs of Manitobans at the moment. A plan that focuses on privatization of things like liquor and lotteries as a top priority, I think, is a misguided focus for the future of the province.”

Selinger pointed to the importance of infrastructure spending, an area the premier admitted has not been without mistakes under his watch.

“We know we’ve made some difficult decisions and we know we haven’t always done it right,” he said. “We know there are things we can do better. That’s the experience of being in government. That’s the experience of being in business. You always can identify opportunities to improve what you do.”

Selinger said key infrastructure programs would include the “Freedom Road” project at Shoal Lake 40 First Nation and boosting development at CentrePort.

“That will get built now, and it will mean great things for Winnipeg,” he said of the Freedom Road project.

The premier promised increased intermodal infrastructure at CentrePort to better serve industry.

“The CentrePort strategic infrastructure gives us the opportunity to do game-changing things for the city,” he said.

“When we bring those assets together, we will reinvent Winnipeg and Manitoba as a distribution hub for the entire continent.”

Selinger said he looked forward to improved co-operation from the federal level, thanks to the election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.

“I can tell you, I think I experienced for the first time in history, a premier and a prime minister hugging each other in Manitoba,” Selinger said to laughter from the crowd. “And I can tell you, it was good.”

Inclusiveness was a big theme of Selinger’s speech.

“I really believe Manitoba does best when it’s an inclusive society,” Selinger said. “That starts with reconciliation with our indigenous people. That’s fundamental to the future prosperity of this province.”

It also includes refugees.

“Manitoba has one of the best immigration programs in the country,” Selinger said, noting Manitoba receives the highest number of refugees, on a per capita basis, of Canadian provinces. The premier said he’d like to double the number of refugees Manitoba accepts.

“We can help (refugees) put down roots, we can help them enter the labour market and we can help them become successful Manitobans,” Selinger said.

Taking questions from a media scrum after speaking to the crowd, Selinger made no bones about making his address something of a stump speech.

“If it felt like a campaign speech, let’s say it was a campaign speech,” Selinger said. “It’s a part of what’s coming up. We all have to make sure we have a clear vision for the future and a clear focus on the priorities of Manitobans.”

“It left some questions,” said Dave Angus, President and CEO of The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, in regard to Selinger’s address. “Questions around what is the economic infrastructure plan for this province, in terms of how they’re going to build a strong economy around that infrastructure priority. It left questions around green jobs as well. Hot off the Paris climate change summit; where is Manitoba going to lead when it comes to that?”

Angus said he was pleased to hear Selinger talk about new media and digital media in the province, sectors the Chamber head says are doing well in the province. Angus also said he understood the somewhat campaign-speech feel of talk.

“This is a pre-election speech and I guess what we look at is, what’s the election going to be about?” Angus asked. “He led with infrastructure — I think that’s the election. I think that will be a profound part of the election for all three parties.”

Angus said he was pleased to hear the premier talk about youth priorities, especially as 125 high school students were in attendance for the speech.

“I’d love to get their reaction in terms of whether the premier gave them hope that this is the place they’re going to want to pursue their dreams,” Angus said.

Jay Forbes, CEO of MTS Allstream, introduced the premier, speaking as a new Manitoban on the unique and supportive nature of the province’s culture.

January will mark one year in Manitoba for Forbes.

“As a newcomer, I’ve embraced learning about Manitoba culture,” he said. “I see a very self-sufficient province, a province where its people are hardy and resilient… a business community comprised of countless owner-managed enterprises and a friendly and collegial community. Your neighbours treat you better than family and the business community accepts and engages you without hesitation or pretence.”

Forbes continued, “We need a provincial strategy that capitalizes on this unique set of cultural strengths. We also need a strategy that delicately balances the preservation of those cultural attributes we hold near and dear with the need to evolve and thrive in a world that is experiencing unprecedented levels of change.”

Manitoba State of the Province Address in Photos

Premier Greg Selinger.

Manitoba Liberal leader Rana Bokhari (left) at the State of the Province Address at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg.

Premier Greg Selinger (right) and MTS Allstream CEO Jay Forbes.

Premier Greg Selinger (right) and MTS Allstream CEO Jay Forbes.

Dave Angus, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

Premier Greg Selinger reviewing his notes.

High school students enjoying some lunch at the event.

MTS Allstream CEO Jay Forbes.

Premier Greg Selinger speaks at the State of the Province Address.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.

MTS Allstream CEO Jay Forbes watching the keynote address.

Premier Greg Selinger.

Were you at the State of the Province Address? Let us know your comments below.

All images by Jason Halstead.

Jason Halstead

Jason is a Winnipeg-based journalist and photographer who has been published across Canadian media.

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