POLITICS
10/20/2011 02:34 EDT | Updated 12/20/2011 05:12 EST

Manitoba Throne Speech: Premier Greg Selinger's NDP Government Focuses On Health, Economy, Education

CP

WINNIPEG - Manitoba's NDP government will fulfil election promises to hire more doctors, limit class sizes and fight crime, Premier Greg Selinger said Thursday as he launched a brief fall legislature sitting.

The government released a six-page throne speech that reiterates the many promises the party made before the Oct. 4 election. Selinger admitted there were no surprises.

"We gave you the leaks during the election period ... so it's probably not a surprise for you folks that have been on the campaign trail," Selinger told reporters.

Over the next four years, the government says it will hire 200 more doctors and 2,000 more nurses. Class sizes for kids in kindergarten to Grade 3 will be capped at 20 students. One hundred new police officers will patrol urban and rural streets.

Post-secondary tuition will be capped at the rate of inflation, universities and colleges will get annual funding increases of five per cent, new child care centres will be built and drugs for cancer patients will be fully covered by medicare.

The government can do it all and remain on track to balance the budget by 2015, Selinger said, thanks to a stable economy that has suffered less than other provinces from the global recession.

But Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen said Selinger's promises are built on shaky fiscal ground.

"The level of debt of Manitoba is at $25 billion and growing at 10 per cent a year," said McFadyen. "We have a record level of dependence on Ottawa for transfer payments ... which is not something that can last forever. Everything they said in the speech is going to depend on our fiscal position."

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard, who holds the party's lone seat, said the throne speech failed to address the pressing issues in health care including long wait times and health prevention.

"This throne speech is more of the same failed NDP policies in health care," he said. "It is so bad, it puts a risk the future of public medicare in Manitoba."

Selinger leads the NDP into a fourth consecutive term and has one of the largest majorities in the province's history, with 37 of 57 legislature seats.

The nine-day fall sitting comes as the fallout from the election remains unsettled. Selinger has yet to name a permanent finance minister to replace Rosann Wowchuk, who did not run for re-election. There is also uncertainty over two NDP backbenchers in Winnipeg, whose close victories on election night are to undergo judicial recounts next week.

Still, Selinger said, it was important to get back to the legislature.

"There was a desire to get back to business and get on with the show and move forward on some of these priorities," he said.

While the NDP enjoys a strong majority, the opposition parties are trying to recover from disappointing election results.

The Progressive Conservatives will soon be looking for a new leader to replace McFadyen, who announced on election night his intention to step down once a replacement is chosen.

Gerrard also surprised reporters Thursday by saying he won't lead the party in the next election. Gerrard was facing internal pressure to jump ship after capturing the party's only seat in the last election.

Still, Selinger said he does not expected an easy ride.

"Oh, I think you'll find them to be pretty feisty. I've never seen an opposition yet that didn't take full advantage of question period and all the opportunities available to them."