It is time to stop contracting Transit Plus out

By Carlos Sosa, Zach Fleisher, and Sara Atnikov

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press April 12, 2019

For years, an open secret in Winnipeg has been the poor quality of service associated with Transit Plus (previously Handi-Transit), which exists to provide a parallel Winnipeg Transit for those with disabilities. The service provides transportation to approximately 7,500 people a year. Due to problems with the services, the Independent Living Resource Centre (ILRC) was able to, with the assistance of the Public Interest Law Centre (PILC), submit a complaint to the Manitoba Ombudsman.

In January of 2019, the Manitoba Ombbudsman’s report on Winnipeg’s Transit Plus was released, and it publicly highlighted numerous issues that users and advocates of the system had been saying for years. The report made 19 recommendations that addressed a myriad of concerns brought forth by the ILRC.

The release of the report provides the potential for a new direction for Transit Plus. The recommendations are numerous and wide ranging, including making a process for complaints and appeals publicly available, a review to clarify eligibility criteria, and removing the Transit Plus manager from the appeals process. As well, Transit Plus should be working to clarify its “no show” policy, which has caused major headaches for users. Finally, the Ombudsman recommended that the sexual harassment policy, which had shockingly been removed from the driver’s manual, be restored.

Additionally, the Ombudsman recommended that Transit Plus “review its functionality and impact to ensure it reflects reasonably equivalent service to the fixed-route transit system.”

This recommendation tells us what we really need to know: Transit Plus is not living up to its mission to provide an alternative service to those who rely on it. With so many problems arising from the way this service is being delivered, City Hall must ask if it is worth bringing Transit Plus back in house and offering as a publict service. This is a timely consideration, given that the Transit Service Master Plan is being created and due to be released in August 2019.

At the heart of the perils facing Transit Plus, and one not addressed by the Ombudsman, is the fact that Transit Plus service is contracted out instead of provided as a public service. As noted in the report, as of December 2017 there were seven private contractors providing services under a total of 15 separate contracts. Contractors attempt to cut costs by paying their workers minimum wage while not investing in proper infrastructure or training. For example, the report noted that prospective Transit Plus operators – those who drive the cars and vans – are responsible for paying for their own training. This is in contrast to bus operators who, once hired, as provided comprehensive training as part of their employment.

It’s time the City of Winnipeg consider operating Transit Plus in house as a public service, not as a for-profit enterprise for private business. People living with disabilities utilize public services and benefit when the services are of good quality opposed to ones that are poorly delivered by the private sector. People with disabilities deserve service at a comparable level. This is a human rights issue that must be addressed by the City of Winnipeg.

In the most recent edition of CCPA’s Manitoba’s Winnipeg Alternative Budget, and in the 2018 State of the Inner City Report “Green Light Go: Improving Transportation Equity” one of the important calls was to bring Transit Plus back in house, operated by the public sector.

It is when City Hall acts on this critically important issue that we will see an improvement in the services provided to people living with disabilities within the City of Winnipeg.
About the authors

Carlos Sosa is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg, a member of the Board of Inclusion Winnipeg as their Advocacy Chairperson and a past Co-chair of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities.

Zach Fleisher is the Director of Communications at the Amalgamated Transit Union 1505 and a volunteer director at Bike Winnipeg. He is based in Winnipeg, on Treaty One territory.

Sara Atnikov has spent the last decade working in the non-profit field in development and communication positions in Winnipeg, on Treaty One territory.

Changes in practices necessary, if serious about reconciliation

By Anne Lindsey

Offer money to leaders in a cash-poor community to gain support for a resource extraction project. Publicly shun and disenfranchise individuals who don’t agree. Deceive people into signing their support without full information. Divide the community. Commence destructive preparation of the project site before proper decision-making processes are complete…Situate this project on traditional indigenous territory.

Much of Canada’s historic wealth was built on these kinds of practices. Sadly, in this so-called era of reconciliation, they continue. And not far from where many of us live in Winnipeg.

This scenario was described by Hollow Water First Nation (HWFN) members Lisa Raven, Reg Simard and Drey Smith at a recent event about Canadian Premium Sand’s proposed Frack Sand development near Hollow Water First Nation, on Treaty 5 territory east of Lake Winnipeg. They all care deeply about their community and the land, and they are expressing serious concerns.

The project has many drawbacks, including health and environmental impacts of frack sand processing on workers, nearby communities, water and land; and concerns about heavy truck traffic on the winding Highway 304 and the extremely busy Highway 59. Not to mention the folly of supporting more fossil fuel infrastructure when urgent transition to alternatives is required to avoid the worst of climate catastrophe.
Of grave concern as well, is the disrespect shown by both the company and the provincial government to the community.
This project requires an environmental licence and therefore its potential environmental and human effects must be identified and fully addressed prior to proceeding. It also requires a Section 35 Crown Consultation which must seek to accommodate and substantially address the concerns of local indigenous people.

Both processes are now underway, but they stray far from meeting the letter and the spirit of the laws that created them. No licence has yet been issued, but a road has already been cleared and exploratory work done precisely on the area of the community trap line, a key place for traditional activities. HWFN Chief and Council support the project, including discreetly waiving rights to the necessary Section 35 Consultation for the exploration work and road, but they do so without the informed consent of the greater community.

Drey, Reg and Lisa described how many people in the community are only now learning about the project. They reported tension as local opponents have been intimidated and in some cases, have lost their jobs. Unsubstantiated rumours abound about possible benefits, like a much-needed new school, and injections of money into the cash-strapped reserve. Children, we hear, are upset about the destruction of their forest play areas, which are also their families’ spiritual homeland.

From the start, the company has provided only vague, incomplete and conflicting information, meaning that any Manitoban following the issue cannot know its full implications. Meanwhile, the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) – government representatives with expertise in various areas – has identified serious problems with CPS’s proposal, including the very real dangers of silica sand processing. Their concerns have raised red flags in HWFN, other First Nations and other settlements in Treaty 5. The company and the TAC continue discussions. Why would the government not wait until these questions are resolved before allowing destruction of the community trap line, and before embarking on the Crown Consultation on the overall project, so that community members could participate fully informed?

In this indigenous community, as in any community, especially those facing duress and change, opinions will vary about resource developments. Some will have reasons to be in favour, and some will have equally valid reasons to be opposed. As a non-indigenous settler person, I don’t pretend to have answers for Hollow Water First Nation. In my view though, the government failed to carry out due diligence in discerning whether Chief and Council had broad community support for this project.

As I write, community members are entering the 6th week of a vigil at Camp Morning Star – a tipi and sacred fire set up to honour and protect the land and educate about the disregard shown to the community around the Frack Sand development.

I am a Treaty person (as are we all who live here). I believe we have responsibilities to our indigenous neighbours who are impacted by resource development. At minimum, we can demand that our governments practice the basic tenets of reconciliation, one of which is the right to “free, prior and informed consent…” as described in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Canada’s history has been one of exploiting resources, at the great expense of the indigenous people who lived and continue to live on the land. That history has contributed to the displacement, poverty and pain that haunt many indigenous people today.

At this moment, with growing knowledge about the crimes of the past, we can change that relationship in both small and large ways. In the instance of this development, the government can choose to have a public Clean Environment Commission Panel review of the project. A Panel review would ensure transparency of information and would allow all members of Treaty 5, and any Manitoban, the opportunity to participate in the discussion. Ensuring meaningful public process for resource developments that include “full, prior and informed consent” will be a step by the government of Manitoba toward meeting the principles of reconciliation.

Anne Lindsey is formerly the Executive Director of the Manitoba Eco-Network, a long-time activist and a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Manitoba Research Associate.

By Dele Ojewole

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press Thursday April 4, 2019

At a time when other jurisdictions are finding ways to invest in post-secondary education (PSE) and healthcare, the Manitoba government is doing the opposite, effectively making higher education out of reach for those who need it most. Manitoba raised the cap on PSE tuition increases to 5% plus inflation – as a result students across the province are seeing tuition increases of upwards of 6.6% this September– and public funding to PSE is shrinking – students are subsidizing more of the cost of education. It’s truly disappointing to see this government’s lack of awareness toward the value of post-secondary education and what it can do to give Manitobans a better future.

Affordable and accessible education is a sound investment and priority for economic development. The training and professionalization of our future workers are what will keep our province’s economy dynamic and competitive for generations to come. By keeping the cost of education relatively low we provide an incentive for young people to stay in Manitoba and grow our population and economy. However the tuition rebate for students who study and remain in Manitoba was one of the first incentives chopped by the PC government when it took power and the $52 million cut was not reinvested in post-secondary education. The Manitoba government, when faced with this criticism, points out they have put money into the Manitoba Scholarship and Bursary Initiative (MSBI). The MSBI is limited financial aid, non-repayable grants, scholarships and bursaries, to help some students offset the cost of tuition. But for most it changes nothing – only 21% of Manitoba PSE students access MSBI, and many not based on economic need . Moreover, some of these funds go unclaimed. This is a Band-Aid response.

Manitoba’s relatively affordable tuition was not only a benefit to Manitobans, but it also serves to attract thousands of students from all around the world. The economic, cultural and social contributions of international students must not go unappreciated. Indeed the government seems to acknowledge these benefits in theory; Minister of Education and Training Kelvin Goertzen recently declared 2019 the Year of International Education in Manitoba. Yet March 2018 surely was not a year for international students- that was when the government suddenly clawed back public health care for international students without any prior consultation. The $3.1 million saved by this elimination seems petty when a recent press release from Minister Goertzen put their annual contribution to the local economy at over $400 million.

Consistently the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) hears the same story on the ground: international students chose to come to Manitoba because tuition was relatively low and made even more affordable through incentives such as having healthcare included. For those who arrived recently will see tuition fees nearly double: for example at an international student at Brandon University is paying $11,426.07 this year for tuition (more than three times a domestic student) and by the end of the 4-year degree this will increase to $20,105.91 annually. This combined with the sudden loss of public healthcare feels like a betrayal.

Canadians consistently applaud themselves on public health care in contrast to our neighbours to the south. No one should have to choose between seeking medical attention and going further in debt. However this is not the first time the Manitoba government’s commitment to accessible public healthcare has been eroded – witness the closure of emergency and urgent care services with more on the way.

In a recent meeting with Minister of Education and Training Kelvin Goertzen,  student leaders in attendance were offered a folksy anecdote about how “back in the day” his tuition was paid for by working a summer job.  Statements like these make it quite evident that this government’s perception of issues faced by students in 2019 is limited. Funding one’s studies through seasonal employment may have been possible prior to 1992 when drastic funding cuts to Canadian universities quadrupled tuition across the country over the following two decades. These substantially higher tuition fees combined with the ever-increasing cost-of-living in urban centres makes supporting oneself through summer employment a ludicrous suggestion. Most students today work all year long, sometimes numerous jobs, and still struggle to afford their tuition, textbooks, course fees and all of the other necessities of life. The average student debt upon graduation in Canada is $26,000 according to Statistics Canada. Mr. Goertzen had the luxury of avoiding going into debt to get his degree, but anecdotes such as these are of little comfort to those of us today who will live the next decade in the red thanks in part to the actions of this provincial government.

History will judge the provincial government for their lack of vision for post-secondary education in Manitoba. Students and civil society will organize in response. Our governments should recall the 2012 Quebec student strikes. It didn’t start overnight, it started after years of attacks on public universities and lead to the defeat of the austerity-driven Quebec government at the time. There is still time for this government to rethink its approach to the critical issue of post-secondary education.

Education is a central societal pillar that has long-term benefits. It’s now more important than ever for us to maintain the vision of a society that prioritizes investing in the success of our youth. But by neglecting our post-secondary institutions, the provincial government is neglecting the future, choosing instead to score short-term political points through balancing the budget and reducing taxes on the backs of those trying to succeed in today’s competitive labour market.

Valley of despair in Manitoba health care

By Brianne Goertzen

The overhaul of Manitoba’s health care system has been met with repeated calls to slow down from those on the front lines of care. The consistent and persistent stories from patients and front line workers alike detailing chaos and upheaval within the health care system are numerous.

However, the province is going full steam ahead with their overhaul and is paying little attention to the concerns of workers and Manitobans alike. The overhaul and newly introduced legislation will continue to erode and worsen health services we all rely on.

Recently, the head of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Réal Cloutier, emailed a letter to 28,000 staff in an attempt to alleviate concerns and the increasingly low morale plaguing the staff of health facilities. He recognized the decreased morale and general depressed state of health care workers but told them to hang on and that they were experiencing a common feeling dubbed in change management as the, ‘Valley of Despair’.

The ‘Valley of Despair’ refers to the low point people go through when experiencing major workplace changes. They often feel depressed and a loss of control. Réal Cloutier was attempting to alleviate fears and boost morale by assuring them that they would eventually pass through the valley – that hope was on the other side.

On the surface, the letter at least finally acknowledges how staff is feeling, but it does nothing to address the real concerns expressed by a number of health care workers across the province. From overworked neonatal nurses at St.Boniface Hospital, to increases in mandatory overtime, to low levels of staffing, the sudden closure of the Family Medical Centre, closure of the maternity ward in Flin Flon, and impending closures of more ERs: the experiences of those caring for our sick, ill and injured must be taken seriously. Those on the front line know what is and is not working, but despite continued requests to be consulted about changes, they are ignored. Instead they receive Cloutier’s letter, which diminishes their years of experience and ignores their urgent request to slow down on the health care overhaul.

The ‘Valley of Despair’ will undoubtedly widen with the recent introduction of Bill 10. This legislation would amend the Regional Health Authorities Act, to become the Health System Governance and Accountability Act. Contained within this legislation is the creation of ‘Shared Health’ governance. Imagine a pyramid with the Minister of Health Cameron Friesen at the top, followed by ‘Shared Health’ then the regional health authorities and CancerCare Manitoba. Addictions Foundation of Manitoba will be absorbed by Shared Health. The shifts in responsibilities and oversight under this new piece of legislation will impact all stakeholders in the health care system. The consequences of this legislation will be far-reaching, including paving the way forward for a new super agency and a ‘one size fits all’ model of health care service delivery.

We only need to look to Nova Scotia who in 2015 went straight to a ‘super agency’. The change resulted in a number of detrimental consequents to the delivery of care. The inadequate financial resources, the clumsy handling of the amalgamation, and the failure of the one size fits all model has led to negative consequences for Nova Scotians’ access to quality care. A ‘one size fits all’ model is not responsive enough to adapt to changing needs and demands in a given region in a province. For example, currently ER’s in Nova Scotia are issuing pink letters to patients who will not be seen by a doctor in the operational hours of some ERs. The letter details the fact they will not be able to see a doctor today because they have been assessed at a level that is low and they are to come back later. The inability to staff local hospitals in Nova Scotia is chronic with unexpected closures of ERs and the inability of existing staff to take time off. Some groups contend that the new model of health care is leading to higher levels of political interference in the operation of the health care system. The fact that Manitoba is headed down this road is scary and can seriously compromise quality of care. We should be asking is this really the road we should head down? We think not.

If this government is keen on improving health care then why rush through another major change in the administration of health care in this province. Are the political points worth the impact to our delivery of quality, considerate, access to universal Medicare? If this government continues to ignore the continued calls to slow down from our frontline workers, the valley of despair will undoubtedly persist.

Brianne Goertzen is the Provincial Director of the non-partisan Manitoba Health Coalition and a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Manitoba steering committee member. She serves as a school trustee for Ward 3, River East Transcona School Division.

The Big Squeeze between City and Provincial Budgets

By Lynne Fernandez

The City of Winnipeg budget is always affected by the provincial budget, but this year Mayor Bowman did his best to reverse that situation. Before, during and after the release of the city’s budget, the mayor lobbied hard to explain the injustices of the premier’s position, and to put his stamp on the provincial budget. Read More

Black Lives Matter in Canada, as well

By Robyn Maynard

It is not too soon to express the view that the police killing of Machuar Madut, 43 year old father of three, living with mental health issues, and facing possible eviction – was unjustifiable and unnecessary.

I am unwilling to entertain the notion that Machuar Madut’s death was sad but inevitable. Regardless of the conditions that led to this incident, killing a black man in crisis simply cannot part of what it means to “contain the scene” (the words of a mental health expert interviewed in CBC news).

A recent Ontario Human Rights Commission interim report on racial discrimination by the Toronto police services – found, to much publicity, that black people make up 70 percent of police shootings resulting in civilian death. Less discussed, however, was that the study also showed that black victims of police shootings were less likely to have been carrying weapons, less likely to have threatened and attacked police and fifty percent less likely to have been carrying a gun during the encounter. What this tells us is that not all people need to be killed in order “to contain the scene”. In fact, only some deaths – black deaths – become cast as unpreventable: white men, even those armed with guns – continue, at far higher rates, to be kept alive when they encounter the police, despite being more frequently armed and violent. The ability to keep one’s life while in crisis is a courtesy and a privilege of whiteness, and a basic form of human dignity that black people continue to be denied. Read More

CCPA-MB is moving April 1, 2019

Notice of new address: April 1, 2019
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
Manitoba (CCPA-MB) is moving.

Please make changes to your mailing/
contact info in your systems.Old address is:
205 – 765 Main St.
Winnipeg, MB
R2W 3N5

Our New Address will be:
301 – 583 Ellice Ave.
Winnipeg, MB
R3B 1Z7

Our phone and emails will remain the same:
204-927-3200
ccpamb@policyalternatives.ca

Office space for rent!
In our new location at the John Howard Society Office Buidling,
583 Ellice Ave. we are renting out one of our offices:
• Office size: 200 sq ft.
• Large 3’x5’ east-facing window
• Shared kitchen space with CCPA staff
• Newly painted
• Parking space
• Central location
• Elevator/accessible
• Cost: $400 a month (all utilities, cleaning, 1 parking spot included)
contact: ccpamb@policyalternatives.ca 204-927-3200 Available April 1, 2019

What is happening to public education in Manitoba?

By Molly McCracken

School trustees are consulting with parents and stakeholders for this upcoming year’s school budgets while they seem to be under attack by the provincial government. Education Minister Goertzen had heated exchange with Winnipeg school trustees on twitter earlier this month regarding education funding and taxes.

Buckle up. With the province’s recently announced review of public education, it seems much of the K- 12 system is up in the air. This will be an important conversation; we all want the best for Manitoba children. Education is the cornerstone of healthy, safe communities and of democracy. Read More

Hard lessons from Europe’s austerity agenda

By Lynne Fernandez

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press February 19, 2019

It’s been obvious since his election that Premier Pallister is committed to austerity. His government is cutting public services and staff, reducing funding to municipalities and obsessing over deficit reduction, ostensibly to deal with what he labels as a financial crisis. At the same time he is oddly insistent on cutting revenues by reducing the PST by one per cent. Read More

A Closer Look at Childcare Affordability in Manitoba

First published in the Winnipeg Free Press February 13, 2019

A new report by CCPA National (Developmental Milestones:  Child Care  fees in Canada’s Big Cities) on childcare fees contains very mixed reviews of Manitoba and raises important questions about public policy. A closer look complicates the congratulatory confidence that Manitoba’s fees are among the lowest in Canada (“City second in daycare affordability,” Winnipeg Free Press, February 8). Read More