Home Care Program
Mr. Gary Doer (Leader of the Opposition): Madam Speaker, yesterday I asked the Premier to spend some time listening to the excellent presentations that Manitobans were making in our committee room in the Legislature on the home care system here in Manitoba.
Madam Speaker, yesterday I had the opportunity to receive and read the brief from the Mennonite Central Committee. Jake Letkemann presented to the committee and he said in his brief, and I quote: Documents produced at the request of the government do not recommend privatization or contracting out of home care.
Heed the council, act quickly to deal fairly with the human dynamics of this home care situation.
I would like to ask the Premier today, will he spend some time listening to Manitobans who feel very strongly about preserving their home care system and feel very strongly opposed to the profit and privatization agenda of the Filmon government?
Hon. Gary Filmon (Premier): Madam Speaker, I want to assure the Leader of the Opposition that I spend most of my time listening to people, meeting with groups of people, representatives of major organizations province-wide and beyond, and, indeed, even today have done that in meeting with significant groups of people this morning.
The fact of the matter is that I try and be subject to the input of people from all different backgrounds and all different walks of life, and the one thing that is consistent about home care is that people want to ensure that the services will always be provided there for their needs. They do not want to be subject to the arbitrary withdrawal of services such as they are faced with today and will continue to be faced with unless we ensure that we no longer have a monopoly single-provider system of bureaucracy for their needs. Their needs have to be provided for when they need them, as they need, how they need them, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and that is exactly what we will be doing by the introduction of competition and flexibility within the system.
Mr. Doer: Again, I am disappointed that the Premier would not take the time to attend the committee hearings that are being held in the Legislature, the committee hearings that are having tremendous and excellent presentations from Manitobans from all walks of life about their home care system. Just like Dr. Evelyn Shapiro has stated before that the government's plan will cost more money and provide less quality of service, Dr. Sharon Macdonald, a former employee of the Department of Health, now a professor at the University of Manitoba school of medicine said that the process of health care reform has not been followed by the current redirection of home care by this government.
She further goes on to say, having evaluated at length the government's plans, that the system they are putting in place would not provide for the care and quality of citizens and asks the government-- and in fact states, it is time to return to the foundations and examine the issues thoroughly in home care.
I would like to ask the Premier today, would he take the time to listen to Manitobans? In fact, Dr. Evelyn Shapiro will be there this afternoon, I believe. Will he take the time, as we have, to listen to Manitobans presenting their opinions on home care so that he cannot only listen to some Manitobans but hear all Manitobans about privatization and profit in home care, Madam Speaker?
Mr. Filmon: Madam Speaker, the one thing that characterizes our commitment to home care is that it is a greater commitment than that that has been given by any government in Canada and any government previously in this province.
When we took office in 1988, the home care expenditures were about $38 million. Today, they will be $93 million in this coming fiscal year. That is the kind of commitment that we have continued to give year after year, increases both in the nature of the service, in the breadth and scope of the service and in the number of people being serviced, Madam Speaker. No government in Canada has made as great a commitment or is as thoroughly committed to meeting the real needs of those who depend upon home care, and that is what we will continue to do with the changes that we are bringing to home care.
Mr. Doer: Madam Speaker, yesterday at the committee meetings, Michael Rosner, on behalf of the Manitoba League for Persons with Disabilities, presented a brief which I had the opportunity to listen to. In that brief he stated that in the past home orderly services were delivered by a private company and people with disabilities experienced many problems and, of course, in 1982 and '83, the Department of Health took over those private services because they were not meeting the needs of disabled people in our province.
Will the Premier listen to Michael Rosner and all the other Manitobans who are presenting their opinions, their experience on past private experiments, past private companies that have been in operation here in Manitoba? Will he just go down the hallway and listen to the people who are speaking out on behalf of the clients of this province who are saying no to profit, no to privatization, and yes to a stable made-in-Manitoba home care system, Madam Speaker?
Mr. Filmon: Madam Speaker, I recognize that the members opposite have an ideological, philosophical approach to this that is absolutely hidebound. We had--
Some Honourable Members: Oh, oh.
Madam Speaker: Order, please. The honourable First Minister, to continue his response.
Mr. Filmon: Under previous NDP administrations, the delivery of a bureaucratically run system would not meet the needs of the disabled in our province, Madam Speaker. We went to a self-managed system, opposed by members opposite because the disabled people wanted to have control in administration and management decisions over their own home care.
We believe that there is need for flexibility. We believe that there is need for competition and alternatives so that people can always be assured of the service, cannot be arbitrarily dealt with and have it removed from them by the current bureaucratic monopoly system. That is why we are making changes that are positive and better for all those who depend upon home care for their services.
We Care Home Health Services
Mr. Dave Chomiak (Kildonan): Madam Speaker, one of the real problems in the home care privatization scheme of the government is the government thinks making profit on the backs of the sick is a good thing in this country.
Is the Minister of Health or the Premier (Mr. Filmon) aware of what their favourite firm, We Care, is doing with some of the tax dollars we are giving them right now. Is the minister or the Premier aware that We Care is offering prizes like a colour TV or a shopping spree at Polo Park or a free dinner at a restaurant or a movie to their workers? To do what? If they complete their work assignments. Is this any way to operate a health care system by giving people colour TVs to complete their work assignments?
Hon. James McCrae (Minister of Health): I simply have to agree with the First Minister this afternoon, who has brought to our attention that we cannot be left at the mercy of a monopoly which would allow for all of our clients to be left in the lurch at a time when the union supported by the New Democrats wants to abandon the clients of the system.
I think the honourable member has referred to a private company. That private company and other ones, their employees at least are at work providing services to clients.
Mr. Chomiak: Does the Premier or the minister not understand that profit in this kind of competition where they give workers frequent-worker points is a waste of tax dollars and represents everything that the U.S. system stands for and everything that our Canadian-built medicare system does not stand for and was not meant to stand for?
Mr. McCrae: This is not 50 years ago; we cannot continue to live in the past as honourable members want to do. What we are going to see in our home care system is more and more demand for services. We think that where competition is allowed to be part of that system, the services will equal the demand and meet the demand and provide the kind of quality that we need for many years to come.
We have built a good home care system. Honourable members opposite think it is good enough. Good enough is not good enough; we want excellence in this province.
Mr. Chomiak: Madam Speaker, I will table the We Care frequent-worker contest where they give out a colour TV, et cetera, so the minister can look at it.
My question is to the Premier.
Does the Premier not recognize that in our nonprofit public system there is no place for this kind of competition, this kind of contest and this kind of profit making when these valuable tax dollars ought to go to care for sick citizens, not for colour TVs and shopping sprees?
Mr. McCrae: The honourable member and his friends in the union movement have acknowledged that their only reason for being in this fight is an ideological difference. Rather than take the word of the honourable member for Kildonan, I would prefer to take the word of somebody like Lesley Larsen, executive director of the Canadian Home Care Association, who says: In Manitoba, I think government should be involved in setting the policies for care and who should get what service and the funding levels. It also has to monitor the service to ensure quality of care. Then it does not matter who provides the service.
Manitoba Telephone System
Mr. Tim Sale (Crescentwood): Madam Speaker, this government has systematically looted the Manitoba Telephone System, forcing it to stop selling equipment, forcing it to sell its cable system for less than its value, forcing it into agreements with Faneuil for smart card and for Yellow Pages for its database and for telemarketing. They are selling a company they have already looted.
Will the Premier (Mr. Filmon) tell the House, what was the strategic value of Manitoba Telephone System's cable assets, and did Manitoba Telephone System sell the cable assets for the strategic value?
Hon. Glen Findlay (Minister responsible for the administration of The Manitoba Telephone Act): Madam Speaker, in the process of evaluating whether the cable assets should stay under the control of MTS, we looked across the country, and in every province across this country the provider of service owned the distribution system. Only in Manitoba did the telephone company own the distribution system.
Madam Speaker, the system was old; we had it evaluated. It was evaluated at $7.5 million and the sale price was $11.5 million. I call that a profit of $4 million.
Mr. Sale: I would like to table a document entitled, MTS Cable Television Networks Business: Valuation and Commentary.
Madam Speaker, will the Premier (Mr. Filmon) confirm that MTS's own people stated that the sale of the cable assets opened MTS to potential revenue losses exceeding $300 million?
Mr. Findlay: Madam Speaker, as usual, the member is wrong.
Mr. Sale: Madam Speaker, will the minister tell the House, what was the strategic value of the Manitoba Telephone System's estimate of the cable assets? Will he simply provide that number?
Mr. Findlay: Madam Speaker, the member is fully aware if he reads Hansard, listens to answers: $7.5 million, and the upgrade needed for the system, in excess of $100 million. That is for the private sector to do in the delivery of services.
In addition to the upgrade of the cable system, if he pays attention, there are licences being given today to deliver cable television by satellite through the air--very expensive and not for the taxpayers of Manitoba to get involved in that kind of risk. That is for the private sector in doing business with their consumers.
Winnipeg Airports Authority
Area Planning Strategy
Ms. MaryAnn Mihychuk (St. James): My question is for the Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism.
Last night at the annual public meeting of the Winnipeg Airports Authority, the chairperson of the board stated, one of the essential components of the development is the designation of an airport area planning district. At this time, 4,100 acres of land in the city of Winnipeg and in the R.M. of Rosser have been redesignated by the province for industrial use. As well, what is really needed, the chairperson was stating, is in total 6,300 acres in the immediate vicinity, with a total of 15,000 acres of land identified for long-term planning.
Will the minister tell us if his department is working with the other partners of the Winnipeg Airports Authority to establish an airport area planning district?
Hon. James Downey (Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism): The answer is yes, Madam Speaker.
Land Use Conflict
Ms. MaryAnn Mihychuk (St. James): Can the minister indicate if he raised the issue of a conflict, a land use conflict, given the fact that the airport opposed the location of the BFI landfill site in the R.M. of Rosser when the cabinet approved the site?
Hon. Leonard Derkach (Minister of Rural Development): I can tell my honourable friend that the people from the planning branch of my department, along with the City of Winnipeg, the people with WINNPORT, involved with WINNPORT, and the consultants from the Stanley group have been working together to ensure that the proper plans are put in place, and that the land is owned in the appropriate fashion, so that indeed Manitobans and Winnipeggers can take advantage of the potential that is there for a transportation centre in North America that is going to be first class and is going to meet the needs not only of Manitobans but indeed other customers in the world.
Ms. Mihychuk: I would ask the Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism (Mr. Downey) and the Minister of Rural Development to explain why they have given up, they have compromised the long-term economic interests of this province as well as the immediate interests of the taxpayers of Winnipeg.
Mr. Derkach: Madam Speaker, I do not quite understand the question because the City of Winnipeg, the people who are involved with WINNPORT, the Department of Rural Development, the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism are all working in co-operation to establish the site at the Winnipeg International Airport and the surrounding area as a facility that will deal with transportation, that will provide the kinds of services to Manitobans that we require and also become a transportation hub for North America, which I think we are so well suited to become.
Madam Speaker, nobody is abandoning anyone. As a matter of fact, there is a good co-operative spirit that is involved in working together to make this become a reality. We certainly do not need the New Democrats opposite trying to spoil this project as well.
Manitoba Telephone System
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Inkster): Madam Speaker, we have learned that Manitoba Telephone System is owed in excess of $1 million by the Tory creature known as Faneuil. Faneuil is behind in its payments for long-distance tolls and MTS is aggressively hounding them to pay up. Manitoba taxpayers lent Faneuil $17 million to attract the company to set up shop in Manitoba and now we have learned that they cannot even afford to pay their phone bill.
My question to the First Minister (Mr. Filmon) is, can he us tell how, if his friends at Faneuil are having trouble paying their phone bill, will they be able to make good on the $17 million that they owe Manitoba taxpayers?
Hon. Glen Findlay (Minister responsible for the administration of The Manitoba Telephone Act): Madam Speaker, I want to surprise the member opposite by telling him that the Manitoba Telephone System is in competition like every telephone company in this country. CRTC, when they introduced the concept of competition, said that the telephone companies would only be able to hold 70 percent of their revenue base.
Because Faneuil is doing telemarketing for the Manitoba Telephone System, MTS has the highest customer retention rate of any telephone company in Canada. Their retention rate is 96 percent for the home customer and 86 percent for the business customer. It is the highest rate in Canada because of an aggressive telemarketing industry that is present here in Manitoba, plus Faneuil has other customers they are doing business for and supplying well in excess of 200 jobs in this province in a telemarketing industry of over 3,000 jobs. They are in the process of paying their bills like every other person who does business with MTS.
Mr. Lamoureux: Madam Speaker, Faneuil has been negligent in paying its phone bill of approximately $1 million. The question is, what assurances, if you like--can the minister tell us what will happen if Faneuil goes out of business with the $17 million that we have lent the company?
Mr. Findlay: I think that was a very hypothetical question, a very derogatory question to a company that has developed here, is creating jobs here, employs as I said in excess of 200 people. A definite agreement of payment is in place between the two entities and that is being fulfilled.
Mr. Lamoureux: Madam Speaker, I would ask if the Premier would be prepared to produce the letter that MTS sent to Faneuil demanding payment of the delinquent phone bill, or will in fact Faneuil be disconnected?
Mr. Findlay: Well, I am really shocked at the member opposite. I thought he was in favour of having jobs created in Manitoba instead of shucking them off. That is his idea of getting even with something and somebody, to shuck off over 200 people from their jobs.
Any business relationship between MTS and Faneuil or MTS and any other entity should remain between them. The member should be actually congratulating the employees and the companies that are in this province for creating the jobs and doing the business and making this a better place to live. Thank you very much, Madam Speaker.
Mr. Daryl Reid (Transcona): Madam Speaker, today is another sad day for Manitoba. A few moments ago we heard the Minister of Government Services (Mr. Pallister) tell us that the business climate in Manitoba was second to none. Yet, today, after 42 years of operation, Labatt stops production, throwing 121 employees out of work. The plant is a state-of-the-art, highly efficient facility and made a $14-million profit in 1995. The equipment from the plant is being transferred to Alberta and B.C. showing, obviously, that there is no overcapacity in the system.
I want to ask the Minister responsible for Industry, Trade and Tourism, can the minister explain any efforts that his department might have made to prevent yet another profitable company from leaving or abandoning Manitoba?
Hon. James Downey (Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism): Madam Speaker, I appreciate the question from the member because it is a very serious issue which this government takes serious--the opposition may not--but we do.
We have, for some time, been working very hard as a government to make sure that the tax base in this province is competitive, that it is in fact the lowest in Canada. I believe we are the second lowest in all of Canada. We have put a lot of initiatives in place which would in fact encourage the development of business and I have to say we have seen some tremendous successes in the overall business front. It is unfortunate--and I say very unfortunate--that a company such as Labatt has made their decision, a corporate decision which we have no control over. We regret it but that is the situation as it is.
Mr. Reid: Madam Speaker, the minister says he has no power.
I want to ask him then, if the minister knows the term, did he consider using the eminent domain in an effort to save the plant and the jobs for Manitoba as has been utilized by other government jurisdictions in North America? Why did he not use the eminent domain to protect those jobs in the industry for the province of Manitoba?
Mr. Downey: Madam Speaker, the member should be well aware of the fact that under a former NDP government we lost Canada Packers with 800 jobs, Swift Canadian with a similar number of jobs, so there are certain things that governments cannot do. I am sure that all alternatives were looked at as it related to how to maintain that operation here. We have also put in place what is known as the Crocus Fund, which is a fund developed for employee purchase of businesses. All of those tools, I am sure, were looked at as it was part of this whole situation.
Mr. Reid: My final supplementary to the same minister: Can the minister explain why he let another profitable Manitoba company leave a scorched-earth legacy behind in this province, instead of taking steps to assist the employees to assume responsibility for that plant's operation, thereby saving the jobs for Manitoba people?
Mr. Downey: Madam Speaker, I believe this government has carried out a very responsible mandate. I just indicated we put in place the Crocus Fund, very much supported by this government, which, by the way, has a majority of its members on the board made up of the Manitoba labour movement. We cannot mandate; we cannot dictate that that kind of a purchase take place, as we could not dictate whether or not Labatt would in fact sell to anyone. There are limited powers which governments have.
Home Care Program
Mr. Doug Martindale (Burrows): Madam Speaker, the Minister of Health on Tuesday of this week said, we have given comfort to faith-based organizations that have made such a significant contribution throughout the history of our province about their goals, their missions and their ethics. Those are the kinds of things we will stand by as we proceed with the reforms in health care.
In view of the minister's commitment, would the minister listen to the United Church, who presented a brief to the home care proceedings yesterday in this building and who recommended that the minister immediately halt plans to privatize home care? Will he listen to this important faith community of Manitoba and follow their advice?
Hon. James McCrae (Minister of Health): I will check to see if the United Church is a signatory to the Memorandum of Understanding we have with the Interfaith Council but, on the other hand, the United Church has made its views known, its official views known with respect, I suggest, to the philosophical issue again. If it is a question of patient care, I can agree 100 percent with the United Church or anybody else who wants to put forward a representation in favour of improvement of services for the clients of our home care system, making those services sustainable for years and years to come. I agree wholeheartedly, and that is why we will continue to go forward with the kinds of initiatives that will have the effect of allowing us to continue to bring quality services to clients for many years to come.
Mr. Martindale: Will the Minister of Health listen to members of the Oblate Justice and Peace Committee who fear that the proposed privatization of home care is one more example of shepherds feeding on their own sheep, or perhaps in this case, of shepherds delivering their sheep to the wolves? Will the Minister of Health listen to the Oblates and cancel their government plan to privatize home care?
Mr. McCrae: This question has been asked and answered dozens and dozens of times in this place, both in the Question Period and during the some 40, 45 hours of examination of the Estimates of expenditure for my department. The honourable member is not ashamed at all that for him this is a philosophical issue. For me it is an issue of making sure those services get delivered and get delivered well for all of the clients who are going to be part of this system for many years to come.
Mr. Martindale: Madam Speaker, this is also a theological issue and I would like to ask the Minister of Health if he will listen to John Robson from St. Ignatius parish who, in a meeting with the MLA for River Heights (Mr. Radcliffe) on home care, reflected that it was clear to us that the Catholic Church would not condone workers' wages being traded off for profits. It was equally clear to us that the Catholic Church would not support the ravaging of services to the most vulnerable in our society. Will the minister listen to the ethical reflections of the Catholic bishops who said that the rights of workers are more important than the maximization of profits?
Mr. McCrae: I think if the honourable member is going to align himself with all of these different denominations he is creating quite a trap for himself, because he cannot pick and choose which ideology he wants to support on any given day. If you are going to refer to a particular denomination, then you have to agree with all of the policy positions put forward. But anybody who wants to consult the honourable member for River Heights is consulting a sensitive and compassionate individual who has demonstrated repeatedly his commitment to the health system and to health services for his fellow citizens.
Home Care Program
Mr. Clif Evans (Interlake): Madam Speaker, given that the privatization of the Home Care program will affect many home care workers who live in rural areas and especially decrease the purchasing power to the local business communities in these rural areas and, most importantly, negatively affect the delivery to clients of home care services at a rural level, will the Minister of Health listen to the many rural towns and municipalities like Selkirk, Beausejour, Brokenhead and others who have passed resolutions calling for public hearings on this very important issue? I will table the resolutions.
Hon. James McCrae (Minister of Health): Madam Speaker, the past over three weeks have been difficult for those home care workers who have been on the job serving clients. They have had to work extra hard, serve extra clients, work under circumstances they do not have to put up with on a daily basis. I would like to take this opportunity to offer my thanks to all those people in Manitoba who have helped the clients of the home care system throughout this difficult period. That includes people working for private organizations, people working for the government, people volunteering their time. They did not have to. Some were providing services because they felt that was the right thing to do because the clients needed those services. I refer also to people who volunteered their help in this particular time from all parts of society. I am extremely grateful to all of those people, and on behalf of all of the clients of home care, I say thank you.
Mr. Clif Evans (Interlake): Madam Speaker, of course, the Minister of Health did not answer the question. If the minister is not willing to answer the question and not willing to listen to rural communities which have suggested that this province hold public hearings, will the minister then do the right thing and walk down the hall and hear what doctors, health care professionals, home care clients, private citizens across this province have to say about his system?
Hon. James McCrae (Minister of Health): Madam Speaker, about 10 years ago the NDP paid a lot of money for a study conducted by the Price Waterhouse consulting firm. That firm put forward a report which outlined many, many areas where improvements were necessary in the Home Care program. Today, the honourable member for Kildonan (Mr. Chomiak) says the policy of his party is to go back to what we had in the first place, i.e., before Price Waterhouse, and that is not good enough for the clients of our system. It is shocking and appalling that New Democrats would stand in their place daily and call for a system that they know is dangerous to clients.
Home Care Program
Ms. Diane McGifford (Osborne): Madam Speaker, Jubilee Avenue in the Osborne constituency has over 70 signs voicing commitment to home care, and on my street--
Some Honourable Members: Oh, oh.
Madam Speaker: Order, please. The honourable member for Osborne, to pose a question.
Ms. McGifford: My point is, Jubilee is a weather vane. On my street, again, in Osborne only two houses do not have a sign and one of those is being built. Citizens in my constituency--and Osborne is home to large numbers of seniors who are proud of and pleased with home care--want to retain this dependable and respectful service. On behalf of my constituents--
Madam Speaker: Order, please. I would remind the honourable member for Osborne that she was recognized to pose a question.
The honourable member for Osborne, to pose her question now.
Ms. McGifford: With all due respect, Madam Speaker, I presented one complex compound sentence as my preamble--one sentence.
Some Honourable Members: Oh, oh.
Madam Speaker: Order, please.
Ms. McGifford: On behalf of my constituents, some of whom are home care clients, I want to ask the minister why, despite overwhelming public support from citizens of every political stripe for home care, his government slogs on with this plan to privatize home care?
Hon. James McCrae (Minister of Health): Madam Speaker, the honourable member and her colleagues choose to put this issue in a political and philosophical--put it into that kind of an environment. That is not the choice of honourable members on this side. We have a job to do, and that job is indeed to support home care.
As far as all these signs go, they say, I support home care. We have moved support for home care from $38 million to over $90 million in the space of eight years. I ask you, who supports home care?
Ms. Diane McGifford (Osborne): Madam Speaker, I want to ask the Premier if he will listen to the voices of seniors, people living with disabilities, people living with HIV-AIDS, home care workers, other health care professionals, ordinary Manitobans and, of course, plain, ordinary Osborne constituents and make a promise today to call a one-year moratorium on the plan to privatize home care and allow public consultations on the future of home care in Manitoba.
Hon. Gary Filmon (Premier): Madam Speaker, we are listening to all of those people whom the member opposite referred to. That is why we are moving to ensure that never again will they be able to be held hostage by one group of individuals of the power to withdraw their services and leave all those vulnerable people who need the service without the service. That is why we must make the change.
Home Care Program
Mr. Steve Ashton (Thompson): Madam Speaker, when home care clients, when concerned families, when many people in this province are trying to send a message to the government, this government says they are political, they are ideological. They blame everybody but themselves for the situation we are faced with, which is because of their privatization policy, we are faced with this very difficult situation.
I would like to ask the Premier one very simple question before he leaves for Israel for the following 10 days. I would like to ask the Premier, will he listen to people--
Some Honourable Members: Oh, oh.
Madam Speaker: Order, please.
Mr. Ashton: Madam Speaker, I referenced--
Some Honourable Members: Oh, oh.
Madam Speaker: Order, please. The honourable member for Thompson, to quickly pose his question.
Mr. Ashton: I did not say there was anything wrong with this; I just pointed to something that has been announced publicly.
I want to appeal to the Premier. Will he listen, not just say it in the House, but will he listen to people, either at the public hearings or perhaps meet with the family of a client of home care in Thompson who recently went through a very difficult situation having to have her second leg amputated, who has pleaded with me to ask the Premier personally whether he will get involved and help resolve this issue by stopping the privatization of home care? That is what she asked me to ask the Premier. I want an answer, Madam Speaker.
Hon. Gary Filmon (Premier): Madam Speaker, this is the irony of it all. There is no proposal to privatize the home care in Thompson. What is affecting their service there is the withdrawal of service by a monopoly provider, by people supported by the member for Thompson who are willing to withdraw services from the most vulnerable in society to try and make an ideological point. That is shameful. That is shocking, and that is what needs to be stopped.
Madam Speaker: The time for Oral Questions has expired.