Dougald Lamont Addresses COVID-19 in the Manitoba Legislature

April 15, 2020

I want to thank everyone who's stepped up in this crisis. Merci à tout le monde dans notre système de santé, dans nos garderies, nos épiceries.

Thank you to our health-care workers, child-care workers, grocery store workers and everyone who's providing services on the front lines, and thank you to every Manitoban who is part of this effort of fighting COVID-19 by staying home and staying safe. And our deepest condolences to all those who've lost loved ones.

We do need to step up to provide people security, especially job security, in this crisis. There are times in our history where the private economy has gone up in flames and jobs and businesses go up in smoke. And at times like this, the worst thing we can do is add to the conflagration with more layoffs, freezes and cuts.

And it's important, Madam Speaker, to say there is more than one crisis going on. There is a COVID-19 shutdown, there is a collapse in the price of oil and too many Canadians were already facing a debt crisis before this began.

But this crisis was not caused by too much spending on not-for-profits or too much spending on non-essential workers, and the crisis was not caused by EAs or early childhood education workers or hydro workers. It was not caused by small businesses.

And I will quote the Premier (Mr. Pallister), from his state of the province speech, that some things don't cost; they pay.

Education and educated students don't cost; they pay. Infrastructure doesn't cost; it pays. Health care for every Manitoban does not cost; it pays. And public services don't cost; they pay.

Keeping people in jobs will not cost. It will pay, because every single person that people are talking about laying off also spends their hard-earned pay to keep the economy going, and at a time when people are living in fear for their health and safety of themselves and their loved ones, not knowing how they will pay their bills, not knowing whether they will lose their business and their life savings, what Manitobans need above all is security.

We need support for laid-off workers. We need support for small business to cover their basic costs so they can rebound from this crisis, because thousands of Manitobans have lost their jobs or have already given up looking.

I've spoken many times in this Chamber about the fact that over half of Manitobans are on the verge of insolvency. The Premier (Mr. Pallister) and his caucus should know that many of those people are people who work for government in that precarious position. There are thousands of low-paid precarious workers who work-funded by the public sector, who won't be able to pay their mortgages or rent if they are laid off.

There is no need for brutal austerity or need for massive tax hikes. There is no need for the threats of deeper layoffs and cuts, but I recognize that the Province cannot do it alone. It does require the Government of Canada and Bank of Canada to step up. In the UK, the Bank of England has begun direct financing of government, an idea that has been endorsed by the Financial Times.

If we are looking at the worst recession since the 1930s, we need to look to that era for solutions. The Bank of Canada and the Government of Canada must step up to assist the Province of Manitoba and help stabilize the books of the Province, Manitoba Hydro and municipalities.

We have lived through greater challenges. My great-grandfather died in the Spanish flu of 1918, leaving a widow and six young children who were bankrupted. My father was born in the middle of the Depression in 1933 and grew up in Headingley in a converted 10-by-12 grain shed he shared with his four brothers and sisters and his parents.

In the end, the measures that we took to get out of the Depression paved the way for the creation of a middle class in Canada. We have forgotten the lessons of the Depression and been dismantling the institutions and social safety nets that were brought to pull people out of that disaster and to protect us from another one.

There are times the private sector melts down and government is the only institution with the tools and resources to step in and rebuild. This is one of those times. We cannot shy away from it. The tools to avoid untold suffering are available to us, so long as we seize them.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

 


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