Saturday, September 30, 2017

We need to restore the Tuition Rebate for students and recent graduates

Instead of helping students and recent graduates in Manitoba, the Pallister PCs are hurting them by raising the amount of taxes they will have to pay.   They are doing this by eliminating the tuition rebate program which started in 2007.   This, in my view, is a mistake.  Eliminating the tuition rebate program will result in more recent graduates leaving Manitoba and because more will leave, there will be fewer Manitobans paying taxes and less revenue to the province.  My plan if I am elected leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party October 21, is to push for reinstatement of the tuition rebate program, and should we have a Liberal government in 2020 to restore the rebate. Students and recent graduates deserve support, and Manitoba deserves to have more recent graduates stay in our province. 

The tuition rebate program offered graduates up to a 60% rebate on the total amount of tuition fees paid over their time at any post-secondary institution in the province, capped at $2,500 per year and $25,000 in total. Manitoba residents were able claim the rebate over a period of 6 to 20 years after graduating.   
The Pallister government is now eliminating this program. Graduates will be able to claim $500 of their tuition rebate in the 2017/18 fiscal year, and then it will be eliminated in 2018/19. The elimination of the rebate has the impact of increasing the taxes paid by recent graduates substantially.   Were they to remain here (many may not now) the extra taxes paid by graduates would be $52.9 million in the 2017/18 fiscal year, a very large tax increase for a small segment of the population.  Already, some recent graduates have decided to leave Manitoba, and in some cases whole families are leaving (they want to be with their children), with a substantial loss of tax revenue to the Manitoba government.   If the result of the elimination of the tuition rebate is more people leave Manitoba and fewer stay to pay taxes, the result will actually be a loss of tax revenue rather than a saving depending on how many people leave.  

The government says the tuition rebate was not effective.  But there is indeed evidence it has been quite effective.  Indeed starting in 2008 there was a substantially larger increase in Manitoba's population than there had been in the years before the tuition rebate was implemented.  From 1999 to 2007, Manitoba's population increased on average 5,768 people each year.   After the tuition rebate was introduced, Manitoba's population grew on average by 14,306 people each year from 2008-2016., as shown in Figure 1.  
Figure 1:
While there may be other reasons for the faster growth in Manitoba’s population after 2007, the increase observed is consistent with the concept that the tuition fee rebate contributed to the retention of people in Manitoba and the growth in Manitoba’s population. 
We can take this further by asking whether the change in population after 2007 was related to a decrease in outmigration of Manitoban’s to other provinces. Such a decreased net outmigration would be expected if the tuition rebate was effective. Figure 2 shows that indeed outmigration of Manitobans to other provinces decreased substantially when the tuition rebate was introduced. in  2007.   This is consistent with the tuition fee rebate having an effect to decrease out-migration of Manitobans as shown in Figure 2. 
Figure 2:

We can next ask whether this outmigration was primarily in those who were the target of the tuition fee rebate – those aged 18-39.   Indeed, the largest change (Figure 3) in outmigration was observed in this cohort of the population.  The fact that the largest decrease in outmigration occurred subsequent to 2007 is also consistent with the tuition fee rebate having an effect to retain students and recent graduates in Manitoba.   Indeed, in a direct comparison, we can see that compared to the 2005/06 fiscal year, 32,841 fewer Manitobans left our province in the years following the tuition rebate being introduced up to and including the 2015/2016 fiscal year.  19,233 of those who stayed were aged 20-39. 

Figure 3

Did the Tuition Fee Rebate help enable recent graduates to get established in careers in Manitoba.  
There is some evidence that the tuition fee rebate was instrumental, for some students, in helping recently graduated students to get established in Manitoba including being able to pay off loans or to be able to afford to purchase a car or house necessary to be established in jobs and careers in Manitoba.   Certainly, discussions with recent graduates shows that this money was used to help them launch their careers in Manitoba.

Was the wind down of the program done in an optimum way? 

Given the evidence that the tuition fee rebate may have contributed to students and recent graduates staying in Manitoba, it is important to look at how the program was wound up. The program was drastically curtailed for 2017 and then ended completely after this. Many students and recent graduates had already planned the tuition fee rebates into their plans and their budgets. Changing their expectations in such a sudden way with respect to a program which they had been promised would be there for them has caught some students off guard and now wondering how they are going to continue with their  current plans, and some considering, as a result, moving out of province. 

Based on the evidence presented above I believe that the tuition rebate should be reinstated.  Indeed my plan if I am chosen leader would be to reinstate the tuition rebate should we have a Liberal government in 2020.   Before reinstating it exactly as it has been operating from 2007 to 2015, I believe it will be important to consult with students to see whether the initial design was optimum or whether changes should be made to improve the tuition rebate program when it is reintroduced. 

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Leader's Dinner - the questions and my answers.

Thursday evening, the Manitoba Liberal Party - Leader's Dinner at the Metropolitan Centre was a chance to meet myself, Cindy Lamoureux and Dougald Lamont - the three contestants for the Leadership of our Party.  The event was well attended.  We were each asked a series of questions by Scott Newman.   Below are the questions I was asked and my responses. 

Scott Newman: "Jon, I think everyone in this room knows you, and probably everyone in the Province knows you.  MP for four years, MLA for going on 18 years now.  Leader through four elections with challenging results.  Why are you running again for Leader, and what's different?"

Jon Gerrard:  For our party, having a leader who is well known all over the province, and who is experienced and knowledgeable is an advantage.  In my years in politics, and particularly since I stepped down as leader in 2013, I have learned much.  I am a better politician and leader now for having had four years away.  My people and leadership skills have improved. I’m a stronger communicator and a better strategic thinker. We, as a party, have a major opportunity in the election of 2020.  We need the leader who Manitobans will recognize and see as most ready to govern.  I believe I am that person.

Scott Newman: "There's a lot of changes happening right now in health care in this Province - Pallister has refused to release the KPMG report, lots of discussion about ER closures, program cuts, etc. - where do you stand/what do you have to say to voters or to Brian Pallister about the state of Manitoba health care coverage"? 

Jon Gerrard: The Pallister approach is like a bull in a china shop.  We need a better principled approach.  Good leadership should result in health care workers who are respected, happy, excited and inspired to do well – not workers who are made nervous and anxious by a hacking, slashing, thrashing government.  As a physician I understand how to achieve excellence in health care – and yet be wise in spending.  For example, spending one dollar on keeping people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease health, saves 20 dollars. I understand the critical importance of putting patients first and making wellness and preventing sickness central.  I stand for positive change in health care, and for putting the HEALTH back in health care for our patients and for our health professionals.

Scott Newman “The third topic will be about Education.  Where do you see education now and where should it be going.   If you could make a change to our system of education, what would it be". 

Jon Gerrard: First, I, like Cindy, believe the Tuition rebate cancelled by the Pallister PCs needs to be reinstated.   Rather than reinstating it precisely as it was, I would consult with students to see if the approach can be improved.  

Second, we need to rethink education in the digital age.  It needs to be more integrated from pre-school, through to post-secondary and life-long learning.   It must be more flexible, more responsive to individual needs, better able to adopt good practices and connected to our communities' skill needs. I talked recently with Lloyd Axworthy.  There is not a system for on line learning in Manitoba.   We need a centre for learning and for design in Winnipeg which combines in class and on line learning and links to all the resources available at a post-secondary education level and which can function, as happens elsewhere as an incubator for ideas, for creativity and for businesses.   I stand for positive, progressive change in education. 

Scott Newman: “The fourth substantive topic will be about the Environment.  Lots of voters in Manitoba are concerned about the Environment, The Green Party averaged nearly 10% of the vote in constituencies where they ran a candidate. Where do you see changes needed on environmental policy in Manitoba?"  

Jon Gerrard: As a politician and an environmentalist, as a recipient this year of the Anne Lindsay Protecting our Earth Award, as one who has been endorsed by Michael Paterson for my work helping save the Experimental Lakes Area, I will attract those concerned about environmental issues.   Two more points.   First, fundamental to saving Lake Winnipeg is ending the dumping of raw sewage from Winnipeg into our Red and Assiniboine Rivers, and ensuring all hog manure is injected into, rather than spread on to the land.   Second, it makes sense for Manitoba to lead in the development and use of electric cars and buses.   It will increase the demand for hydroelectric power from Manitoba Hydro and will position us well as a province for the economy of tomorrow.  I stand for positive, progressive change for our environment.

Scott Newman: “The fifth topic will be about where you'll take the party, should you win the Leadership.  Party members in this room will be coming out to vote on October 21.  They want to know where you'll take the Party, and your plan for the 2020 Election.  If you're chosen leader, how are you going to prepare the party for the 2020 election?  What's you plan to take on the Conservatives and the NDP?"  

Jon Gerrard: My plan is to move swiftly to set up renewed, revitalized, restructured election readiness and candidate search committees which will bring together strong people from each of our campaigns and from the board.  I commit to have most of our candidates nominated by the end of next year – 2018.  My plan is to train the next generation of fundraisers, and be creative and effective in building the war chest we need for the election.  Organizationally, I will work with the board and set up a team to focus on having active constituency associations all over Manitoba.  My plan is to focus, in our communication, on highlighting our team and our stars including Cindy, Judy, Dougald, Paul Brault and candidates as they are selected.  My plan is to work together with our federal colleagues to build a provincial party which can support them and which will win the provincial election in 2020.

Scott Newman;  “If you lose to one of the other candidates on October 21, will you continue to support the party and the winning candidate?”

YES.   If I am not the new leader, I will support our new leader with all my energy and experience for the benefit of our party and for all Manitobans. I am a team player and I look forward to working with Cindy and Dougald and with Judy Klassen and with Paul Brault and our Board.  

Closing Remarks:

Jon Gerrard:

Fellow Liberals: After time off to rethink who I am and who we are, I am re-energized and ready to bring my knowledge and experience and to lead.  We are a diverse party with incredible potential.   We need to remake ourselves so that Manitobans see us as having the discipline, the teamwork, the communication and the vision to govern.  The back fighting, infighting and personal attacks on members, including board members must end.  We are one party, and we must be together to succeed. We need to develop a culture of welcoming, so that whenever someone comes forward we have an opportunity for them to join us and to be part of positive change.  We need to have a culture of respect for our Board – who are volunteers and putting in long hours and considerable dollars to make this party what it can be.   It is not the Board's fault that Pallister cut our subsidies and is making life difficult for us.  Let us attack Pallister not our own board.  We need to rethink how we operate as a party and how we generate the organization and the war chest to fight for the many Manitobans who are calling out for better than the PCs are giving and better than the NDP gave when they were in government.  I will undertake to work with Paul Brault, with Cindy and with Dougald to leave no stone unturned in opening up our party to new ideas from our members so that we can rethink and reset every aspect of what we do as the Manitoba Liberal Party to create the drive to succeed and a more welcoming culture at Molgat Place and around the province.  I ask you to join me to be a part of positive change – to be part of the drive to reinvent and reinvigorate our Manitoba Liberal Party to achieve a culture of excellence to enable us to win in 2020.   I am well known all over Manitoba.  I have the credibility.  I have the experience, the knowledge, the energy, and I am ready now to take on this task so all of us can come together – unified – focused – and successful in 2020. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Congratulations to Estelle Lamoureux on a successful Diversity Runway

Yesterday, at the Fort Garry Hotel, was an opportunity to celebrate diversity in Winnipeg.  It is our success as a city that we have a diverse population and that we can celebrate it.  Congratulations to Estelle Lamoureux who was the main organizer of this event, and to all the volunteers who helped make it a success.   Almost 30 different cultures and diverse groups were celebrated and recognized.   As has been emphasized increasingly in recent years, diversity enhances creativity and productivity and helps a city like ours to grow and prosper.  The event raised funds for Thunderbird House and for Welcome Place in Winnipeg. 

The Laurier Club Luncheon of Sept 21

Last Thursday, Cindy Lamoureux, Dougald Lamont and I all spoke at the Laurier Club luncheon.    The room was full and there was lots of interest as we enter the last few weeks of the Manitoba Liberal Party leadership contest.   My Speech is below.

Hello Everyone.   It is good to be here today at the Laurier Club.

First of all I want to give a shout out to the Winnipeg Goldeyes – what a team and what a season.

Let me start with the question some people are asking – Why am I running to be our Manitoba Liberal leader?

This journey began with many people approaching me to say I should run.  After many discussions first with my wife, then my River Heights Liberal Association and then many others – and with much enthusiasm from many, and some skepticism from some, including my wife, who is also my greatest support, I decided to run to give Liberals a third option.  I am running because I believe that we have an opportunity to form government in 2020 – and that Manitoba needs our Liberal Party as an option to the overspending, poor managing NDP and the poorly thought out hacking and slashing of the Tories.   I am running because I have experience and knowledge to offer.   We know that the strongest steel is forged in the hottest fires.   I have been through some hot fires. 

I am running because I have had several years away from being leader to reflect and to learn.   I am running because I am enjoying working with Cindy Lamoureux and Judy Klassen.  Cindy and Judy are amazing MLAs.  Judy has spent the last several weeks diligently and dedicatedly helping the many people who were evacuated from her communities -  Wasagamack, Garden Hill and St Theresa Point.  Together with Bob Rae I was in St Theresa Point a number of years ago – pushing for clean running water for all.  Now, I am working with Judy, not just for clean running water, but also for better fire protection, and to build the community economies.  We need to give Judy a hand for her tenacity.

I am running because our team is growing stronger with Dougald Lamont running for the leadership and with Paul Brault and the rest of our Board working hard to improve our position and to address our financial situation.

I am running because I believe I can work together with Cindy, Judy, Dougald, Paul and Liberals from around our province to build the team we need for the election of 2020.   I believe my knowledge and experience can help.   Cindy and I were together in the Philippines earlier this year to talk to people about coming to Canada.   We both believe that immigrants are a strength for us as Manitobans. I am together with Cindy in believing that we need to move quickly to put in place an Election Readiness Committee and a Search Committee for candidates so we are ready for byelections and for the election of 2020.  I also see we need to move quickly to make plans for policy development, for fundraising and for organization of all constituencies so that we are ready.

I am together with Dougald in believing we need strong small businesses and a strong economy.

I have recently been working with refugees to try to address racism, stigmatization and housing issues.  It is important to recognize and address these problems, because we, as Liberals, recognize that diversity is our strength and is the future for Manitoba.

The leadership campaign and the push to bring in new members and renew old members from around the province is having a positive effect.   Our membership has expanded substantially.  I want to thank all my volunteers who have helped on my campaign. Cindy, Dougald and I have had an opportunity to meet and talk with Manitobans throughout the province.  We are learning and at the same time building the profile of our party.

In this contest I have made four major policy announcements.   First, on the environment I talked of Lake Winnipeg and our City of Winnipeg and the need to end the dumping of raw sewage from our city into the Red and the Assiniboine Rivers.   Second, on health care, I described my approach to having elected RHA boards to ensure decisions are accountable to communities, and to move to patient focused budgets – budgets based on services delivered, to ensure we put patients first.   Third, I announced my intention to move to deliver universally accessible child care and early childhood education for Manitoba to help children and families and to unblock our economy.  Fourth, I have talked of changing from an apprehend children first model of child and family services to an integrated services model which focuses on supporting families and which reduces the number of children in care and keeps children with families through better support for families.  This morning I was at a March of Dimes conference on accessibility and I talked with two social work students currently doing practicums and they have ideas to help as well.  It is by listening to people that we get new ideas and improve.  And I continue to listen, as I have listened to Fred Morris, who is here, about the important of the St. James Civic Centre.

I have worked, during my career, on many issues – from better addressing brain and mental health, to saving the Experimental Lakes Area and improving our environment, to helping people around Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin with flooding and to addressing issues faced by the City of Winnipeg.   It is my work in these areas that has led to people supporting and endorsing me including among others Counsellor Mike Pagtakhan, Experimental Lakes Areas scientist Mike Paterson, Bonnie Bricker, Director of Family Navigation programs and services at the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba and Bertha Travers, a First Nations activist and helper of flood evacuees.

I have been there for many others, including many Liberals – including helping in the trenches going door to door – provincial or federal candidates – including for my local Member of Parliament Jim Carr and for my good friend Kevin Lamoureux including when he has run federally. 

We will emerge from this leadership contest a unified party.   We need to be and we must be ready for upcoming byelections and for the election of 2020.  I believe I can lead our party well to meet these challenges.  But I say to you join us, whoever is leader, so that we are ready.  I ask you to be part of positive change and join us for a better Liberal Party and a better, fairer, more inclusive, more prosperous Manitoba.  

Friday, September 22, 2017

A tribute to Ken Harris of Minnedosa (1927 - 2017)

Earlier today, I was in Minnedosa to celebrate the life of Ken Harris a longtime Liberal who has made incredible contributions to his community.   He served on numerous committees and in particular played an important role on the Lake Rehabilitation Committee which oversaw the development of the campground, the refurbishment of the beach pavillion and the re-establishment of  the Minnedosa beach as a prime tourist attraction.  

As was reported in 1981 in the Minnedosa Tribune "A few years ago Ken Harris, then a councillor and Parks Board member, had the idea of developing campgrounds at the beach.   Being a somewhat stubborn opinionated Englishman he refused to listen to friends, colleagues or enemies who informed him in no uncertain terms that , "it wouldn't work".   The Parks Board, he was told, had enough to contend with in the administration of the existing site.  Mr. Harris refused to listen and eventually he was able to get good, if reluctant, support for his project. Today the campground is as much revenue as the cabin area and I, for one, take back what I said to Mr. Harris years ago."

Ken Harris also contributed to the refurbishment of the former post office as the new Civic centre, thus saving a heritage building, to save he former CPR railway station, to establishing the Bison Compound and to putting flags and light standards across the dam.    Saving the former CPR station was a mission close to his heart because he had worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway for many years.

Ken produced a book with his life story.
Ken was honoured with the Rural Economic Leadership Award in 1998
The book features photos of Ken and Ava with Justin Trudeau and with Sharon Carstairs
The book also features poems and stories - this one related to his work with the CPR and his passion for trains.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Jon Gerrard’s action plan to improve public policy on brain health in Manitoba

In the last year, our caucus produced a major report on brain and mental health, and I have given a series of talks on brain health, and on what we need to do to improve brain health in Manitoba. Below is a synopsis of public policy changes we need to make. 

Homelessness:  We can end homelessness.  We need a made in Manitoba approach.  We must give credit to those who are working hard in Manitoba to end homelessness.  At the same time we have some distance to go, and we must learn from what has been done elsewhere.  For example, I have visited Medicine Hat to learn about their approach and believe there are aspects we can learn from them.  Part of what is needed is better supports for those with mental health and addictions issues, including comprehensive long term plans, not just short term action. Ending homelessness is essential if we are to give people with brain and mental health conditions the best chance of doing well.

Addressing Addictions and opioid overdoses:  The number of people with drug overdoses, especially opioids, is up considerably over the last few years.  Crystal methamphetamine is "widespread" in Winnpeg and a major reason for property crime. The current detox facilities in Winnipeg (the M en's Detox at the Main Street project and the Health Sciences Centre detoxification unit) are insufficient to address the increased demand for detox services.  There is also an issue currently in that there is not always good coordination between the initial detoxification step and the subsequent longer term treatment, so that relapses are common as a result of the fractured system.  Additional detoxification services and close coordination with subsequent follow up treatment are badly needed in Winnipeg so that there are clear pathways of care tailored to individual needs, and much better results are achieved. The situation is particularly troublesome in dealing with individuals with complex mixes of addictions and mental health conditions - and the lack of sufficient comprehensive planning and insufficient residential treatment for such individuals is leading to a revolving door of temporary help rather than improved long term results. Comprehensive planning is badly needed for such individuals.

Employing peer support workers:  Various jurisdictions have, in recent years, employed peer support workers to help people deal with brain and mental health conditions. These efforts have been remarkably successful in achieving improved results and in reducing health care costs from emergency room visits and hospitalizations.   Further it has been found that when peer support workers are part of the team helping those with brain and mental health conditions, including addictions, they are often able to inspire the whole team with their stories, and this creates a very positive situation.  We need to move vigorously to train and employ peer support workers to address the high needs in brain and mental health in Manitoba and to help shorten current long wait times. 

Including support for psychologists under medicare:  Psychologists are a really critical part of the health care team.  I am a strong advocate for putting certain psychological services delivered by psychologists under medicare as we do with services provided by physicians.  This would include, as examples, psychological services for children, including assessments for learning and behavioural conditions, because these critical services are very time sensitive and can make a difference which lasts a lifetime.  Addressing learning disorders early may prevent later mental illness.  Services to treat depression and to prevent suicide also need to be included because there is abundant evidence of their effectiveness.   Treating most depression with psychological therapy like cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to be as effective as drug therapy in the short run and more effective in the long run.

Paying attention to lifestyle factors:  Exercise, diet and sunlight are important contributors to optimal brain health.  Exercise has been shown to be effective therapy to treat depression.  Sunlight has been shown to be effective therapy to treat seasonal effective disorder, and to improve mood more broadly.   Changes in diet can contribute in many ways to improved brain health.  One example is the long chain omega three fatty acids DHA and EPA found in fish and seafood.  These two fatty acids have been shown to improve the cognitive development of infants, to be associated with improved school learning, including learning to read for those who are behind, and in a combination of at least 60% EPA to reduce symptoms of depression.  Attention to lifestyle factors should be fully integrated into the treatment of individuals with brain health conditions.

Developing a circle of support and care:  Developing a circle of support for individuals with brain health conditions helps individuals improve and to function.   Such circles of support should include family, friends and community people who will be there long term.  A circle of support at a person’s place of employment can also be effective. It is important that health care professionals develop the ability to work with an individual’s circle of support.  In the past, laws have prevented health professionals from communicating with such circles of support.  This needs to change to allow the best possible support for those with brain and mental health conditions. Some people, particularly those with complex circumstances, need a residential treatment centre to get the support they need.  At the moment we are having to refer some individuals outside of our province to get adequate help.   We need to do better in providing such services in Manitoba.  Anyone discharged from hospital or an Emergency Room where there is even the slightest concern about suicide needs to be discharged so that the person is not alone after discharge to prevent suicide, and individuals discharged need to have a comprehensive plan, or a clear process to achieve such a plan.  Currently, too many with a complex mix of mental health and addictions issues face a revolving door in which immediate issues are addressed but an effective long time plan is not put in place.   We need to do better. 

Vigorously identifying and addressing learning disabilities: Children with learning disabilities have an increased risk of having mental illnesses including addictions.  About 40 percent of children with learning disabilities struggle with anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Children with learning disabilities are also more likely to use tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs. Much of this burden of illness is preventable through early identification and vigorous help for children with learning disabilities.  A priority needs to be on early identification and help with children with learning disabilities, including hearing, speech and language disorders.  The more children and adults we can help and the more mental illness and addictions we can prevent, the better we will do. 

Domestic Violence and Mental Health:  Being a victim of domestic violence is a common hidden problem for those presenting with mental health issues, and it is a major cause of mental illness globally (1).  We need to recognize this, to ensure that we have greater awareness of the impact of domestic violence and its impact, and that we are doing everything we can to prevent domestic violence and everything we can do to provide effective support and counselling for those who have been subjected to domestic violence. 

1.     Campbell J, Laughon K, Woods A. Impact of intimate partner abuse on physical and mental health: how does it present in clinical practice? In Intimate Partner Abuse and Health Professionals: New Approaches to Domestic Violence (eds G Roberts, K Hegarty & G Feder): 43– 60. Elsevier, 2006

For more see a full report on Brain Health at

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The MGEU Rally - CARE COMES FIRST - at the Legislature Today

Cindy Lamoureux, Dougald Lamont and I were all at the Health Care Rally at the Legislature over the noon hour today.   The large crowd, organized by Michelle Gawronsky and the MGEU, raised their concerns loudly over the Pallister cuts to health care.  Care Comes First was the rallying cry.  Many effective words were spoken including "Balancing the budget on the backs of patients is wrong." As Liberals we will continue to speak out strongly against the poorly thought out changes and cuts by Brian Pallister and his government.      

Critical changes to Child and Family Services are needed to better support families: Minister Fielding needs to act

This morning, in front of the Manitoba Youth Centre, I called for improvements to the current Child and Family Services system to provide much better support for families.   My press release is below. 

Gerrard calls upon Family Services Minister to decrease child apprehensions by immediately developing an integrated family support approach to CFS

Today, at the Manitoba Youth Centre, Manitoba Liberal Party leadership contestant Jon Gerrard called for urgent action by Scott Fielding, Minister of Family Services, to change policies which would shift the paradigm from a focus on child apprehensions to an integrated approach to support families.

Citing the success in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) in Nelson House and by Westman CFS in Brandon -- both use an integrated service delivery approach for families -- Gerrard said, "It is time to put the ‘families’ back in the Family Services Department and ensure they receive much stronger, consistent, and individualized help so that children at risk get the early support they need to be safe and healthy -- with apprehension being a last resort."

Manitoba has the highest rate of children in care per capita in Canada and among the highest rates in the world.  Being in care carries an increased risk for dropping out of high school, for homelessness, for poverty, for addictions and for incarcerations.  A staggering two thirds of Indigenous people in prison in Manitoba were involved in the child welfare system when they were children. 

“The integrated service delivery model that has been successfully used in the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) and by Westman CFS in Brandon illustrate how critical it is to have a paradigm shift in Manitoba's Family Services Department," said Gerrard. "Providing families with counselling services, with family resources support, with support to prevent FASD, and with public health support has been shown to be effective in reducing apprehensions and helping families stay together in healthier and safer environments."

At NCN, apprehensions have been reduced considerably, which has been accompanied by a reduction in crime and a greater than 40% reduction in substance abuse.(1) 

"Minister Fielding needs to end the "apprehend first" practice the NDP used that ballooned the number of children in care and that the PCs still overuse, and end the policy of funding child welfare agencies based on the number of children they apprehend," added Gerrard. "The PCs must, instead, develop policies to fund integrated service delivery for families -- and this needs be provided throughout Manitoba."

Together with the change to an integrated service delivery model, Gerrard says Manitoba needs to build on international models like the Signs of Safety and Family Finding approaches which build on family strengths, respect family contributions and keep families together, rather than the old way of focusing on family weaknesses which often results in the breakup of families.  A made in Manitoba approach to customary care, and improved measures to address poverty, will also help.

Dr. Gerrard, a longstanding advocate for children who introduced the Jordan's Principle Legislation Act in the Manitoba legislature in 2008, added, "The time is long past due for the PCs to act quickly on the recommendations by the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and change the current approach of child welfare agencies so they significantly reduce the number of children needed to be taken away from their families -- a traumatic experience that can be better prevented with the right supports."
  1. Fransoo R: 2013. The 2013 RHA Indicators Atlas. Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.
  2. Palmater P: 2017. From foster care to missing or murdered: Canada’s other tragic pipeline. Macleans April 12

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A universally accessible child care and early childhood education system for Manitoba

This morning I announced my commitment to a universally accessible child care and early childhood learning system for Manitoba.  The press release is below.  Above, I am with Regan Wolfrom and his children Isla and Colin at the Elmwood Day Nursery where I made the announcement.   Regan and his family have used child care in Manitoba and appreciate the importance of having access to quality child care and early childhood education.

Gerrard pledges to end Manitoba’s “child care deficit”

“We need a solution to child care issues in Manitoba, not just tinkering,” said MLA for River Heights and Manitoba Liberal Party leadership candidate Dr. Jon Gerrard today.  “That solution is a system that provides for stable, affordable, universally accessible, high quality early learning and child care throughout the province.  It’s time to finally end Manitoba’s child care deficit.”

The NDP government left a legacy of extraordinarily long wait lists for early learning and child care in Manitoba.  In April 2016, the province’s online child care registry listed more than 12,000 children who were waiting for care.[1]  The child care deficit has only expanded under the Pallister government, with 16,861 children waiting for care as of June 30, 2017.[2]  Wait times for child care of 14 to 20 months are common in the province.[3]

Manitoba’s child care deficit is a critical issue for all Manitobans, as it slows the province’s economic growth.  Probe Research’s Manitoba Business Leaders Index 2016 found that almost half of the province’s corporate leaders (49%) reported having difficulty finding skilled employees.[4]  Meanwhile, a 2016 Manitoba Child Care Association survey found that 41 percent of new parents had delayed returning to work, 30 percent had turned down a job, and 24 percent had turned down an educational opportunity because they lacked child care.[5]  Moreover, investing in high quality child care helps to advance women’s equality, reduces poverty, supports working families, and has a range of positive impacts on childhood development.

Dr. Gerrard recognizes that an immediate solution to the province’s child care deficit is needed.  Within two months of being elected leader, Dr. Gerrard will appoint a Liberal Early Learning and Child Care Task Force.  It will use the Manitoba Early Learning and Child Care Commission Final Report (January 2016) as the basis of province-wide consultations to ensure we have a plan that is ready to launch upon forming government.  The plan will be released before the 2020 provincial election.

The plan must provide:

A.      Stable, affordable, universally accessible, and high quality early learning and child care for all Manitoba children;
B.      Fair wages for childhood educators;
C.      The reduction of wait times to no more than 3 months, as soon as feasible after the election;
D.      An approach that facilitates the early identification and treatment of children with learning disabilities, including hearing, speech and language disorders.

Should a Liberal government be elected in 2020, Dr. Gerrard pledges to appoint a Minister specifically charged with overseeing the implementation of our early learning and child care plan on a priority basis

[1] Prentice, Susan, “Childcare and the Manitoba Election,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (Manitoba Office), 12 April 2016.
[2] Wege, Pat, “Child Care Wait List Continues to Grow,” Manitoba Child Care Association News Post.
[3] Prentice, Susan, “Fast Facts: How to really help Manitoba families,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (Manitoba Office), 22 December 2016.
[4] Wege.
[5] Ibid.

Friday, September 8, 2017

We need to address racism in Manitoba

The organization “Hire a Refugee” has highlighted the  rise in racism and racist discrimination which has been occurring toward refugees in Manitoba.  This sends a message that is incongruent with the diversity and multicultural beliefs held by the majority of Canadians and specifically Manitobans, so I am writing this blog to raise awareness about this situation.  

1) As a result of refugees we now have more opportunities for jobs in Manitoba, because refugees like all of us need food, clothing, housing and education.   All of these add to the economic growth that is needed in our province and adds job opportunities.  To look at it another way, if there had been no immigrants to Manitoba over the last 150 years, we would have a much smaller population and significantly fewer jobs!

2) It is important to understand that the refugees we are receiving from Syria, Iraq and many other countries have often spent many years in a refugee camp.   They have often lost friends and family to violence and horrific circumstances including car bombs.   Many have been at the front lines in fighting terrorism and terrorist groups like ISIS and have suffered as a result.  The refugees are coming to Manitoba to work hard and to participate in our Canadian society.   Yes, many need help, but they are also people who will make a very positive contribution to our society and will help efforts to decrease terrorism and to build a stronger more diverse Manitoba.

The web site “Hire a Refugee” has been receiving negative messages including the following. (My apologies for the profanity, but I feel it is necessary to demonstrate verbatim the level of hate that is being spread by these racists.)
  • WTF why only refugees were here don't need no MF taking over jobs" - N**** T*******
  • How bout hire a canadian or fck off," -D*** W**** E****
  • I have dog shit to be cleaned it pays what you take" -D***** D******
  • “F*** the Refugees”
  • “F*** them”
  • “F*** you”

These comments are defamatory and inappropriate.  I have written to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and to the Honourable Heather Stefanson, the Minister of Justice in Manitoba to investigate this situation and to ask them to act to address it. I also see we need to take a broader view and look at our city, encouraging awareness and supporting the efforts to have Winnipeg designated a Human Rights City, and our province Manitoba becoming a Human Rights Province where understanding of others and empathy towards others is chief among our values. 

It is important to recognize that many Manitobans who are not refugees are struggling to find work.   For example, more must be done to help those who are 50 to 65 who are looking for work as many, even when well qualified, are having difficulty finding a decent job in an environment rife with cutbacks.  The efforts to find employment can be broadened and Hire a Refugee has indicated that while they are primarily focused on helping refugees, they are also ready to help others.  Let us work together to find solid solutions for all who want to work in Manitoba. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Calling on the Manitoba government to declare state of emergency with respect to fores fires

Today, Chief Dino Flett together with many members of the Garden Hill First Nation, Wasagamack First Nation and St Theresa Point First Nation marched from the Soccer Complex on Leila Avenue in Winnipeg to the Manitoba Legislature.   Accompanying them was Judy Klassen the Liberal MLA for the constituency of Kewatinook. 

Chief Flett, Judy Klassen and other First Nation leaders called upon the government of Manitoba to declare a state of emergency and take effective and immediate action to provide additional help for the evacuees.  I joined the march near the Legislature (photos above), and then Judy Klassen and I both spoke during the event at the Legislature.  In my remarks I supported the call for the province to declare a state of emergency.   I also called for an inquiry into why no effective action was taken when the fire was small to prevent its spread.  In discussions I had with individuals aware of the situation the fire is believed to have been started by lightning on Friday September 1, then was small on Saturday and Sunday before enlarging considerably. We also need to know why even today there are apparently no water bombers being used to shorten the life of this fire to allow evacuees to go home sooner.  

In my remarks I praised Judy Klassen for her incredible efforts to help the evacuees.   Earlier in the day at a fundraising luncheon Shawn Feely, Canadian Vice President for Manitoba and Nunavut, also praised Judy Klassen saying she was “a tireless force" in helping the evacuees.  

I believe we need critical planning implemented and action taken to ensure forest fires are addressed as quickly and effectively as possible so that the spread of fires is much more limited and communities are not threatened.   It should be possible to reduce the likelihood of emergencies like those faced in Poplar River FN, Wasagamack FN, Garden Hill FN and St. Theresa Point with earlier quick and effective action. 

For too long, the community of Wasagamack has gone without an airstrip or a health centre.  The recent crisis has highlighted why this must no longer be delayed.  Climate change will only increase the risk and severity of forest fires in the years to come.  The government must act today to avoid even worse outcomes in the future.

I also urge the government to establish improved protection and emergency preparedness for all First Nation communities in Manitoba, including a thorough action plan to protect forest fires from approaching and/or entering communities, and to protect the community should a forest fire reach a community. 
Such a plan could include:
- building firebreaks
- clearing underbrush near communities
- considering metal roofs in new homes, and for houses on the edge of communities
more effective emergency response capability locally in communities
- the potential deployment of fireboats locally to limit fire spread and to offer better protection to communities
Youth in each community should be involved in developing and implement these plans.