Four candidates are running for MLA in the Portage la Prairie riding. With election day for the province coming up on October 3, Portage la Prairie Mayor Sharilyn Knox is excited about spreading the word to ensure our city is represented well, and that we're hearing from all parties.
As a city, Knox says needs are somewhat different than those of the individual.
"We're representing whole communities," explains Knox. "We work very closely with the provincial government, whoever that is. We work with the Association of Manitoba Municipalities and we focus on what are the priorities across the province. They have a campaign called Let's Grow Manitoba Together, where they've worked with all of the municipalities, talked about what our priorities are, and we've talked about what would be those priorities that would best serve all of the municipalities across Manitoba."
She notes those priorities include municipal funding. Knox says the municipal funding freeze ended this past year after having been in effect for seven years. Knox says this came as great news.
"Municipalities want to make sure that we see really great funding models that continue for municipalities because, just like everyone else, we need to do more with less these days. So, we not only need to see the increase continue, but we need to see escalators, so that as things change, we're seeing more money come to municipalities from the province."
Another important factor is investment in infrastructure. Knox notes infrastructure is never the fanciest or exciting thing to talk about, but waste and water are very important to municipalities including Portage la Prairie.
"We are considered the hub of wet industry in our province, so having really great wastewater and water infrastructure is very important to us," continues Knox. "We need to see the provincial government commit to those types of projects, but also, we need to see them work with us to work with the federal government on those types of projects, and see them become priority."
Knox explains she'd also like to see efficiencies improve in the provincial government, itself. Although the municipal government can quickly move on things that must happen, they sometimes find inefficiencies that slow them down, especially when it comes to economic development.
"We want to make sure that all those departments that are involved are communicating and working very well together," adds Knox. "Whoever forms government, we want that to be a priority for them, as well, and to work with municipalities and listen to municipalities about what those efficiencies need to be. What's good for municipality, is good for our entire province."
Investing in people is another vital factor, adds Knox. She says there has to be some really great healthcare infrastructure, like the new hospital that's currently under construction in our city.
"We love infrastructure, we need the new hospital now, and we need to make sure that a focus is on filling that with the workers that we need," stresses Knox. "If you don't have a building where you have nurses, doctors, and professionals in there, then it's not going to be what we need. So, we need commitment to making things better for our nurses, our province, and for our doctors to retain them. We have seen the government work on training more doctors in our province, which is great, but we also need to really rely on foreign-trained professionals, whether that's nurses or doctors."
Knox says the commitment from the province, regardless of which party is voted in, must continue with some of those immigration challenges, as well.
"We often find it's not necessarily the province that's slowing things down. It could be the professional associations or the accreditation that's doing that. So, the government that's formed need to work with those associations to help so that we can get trained people here to fill the spots that we need," explains Knox. "Of course, you and I often talk about public safety. It's a concern across our province. It's a concern across the country. When it comes to the provincial government, we need to see a real commitment. We have seen some really great things happening for municipalities. As you know, Portage just received funding specifically for public safety."
She says this also brings to mind the issue in which the RCMP retroactive costs had to be addressed.
"Portage of Prairie has a bill of $975,000 that happened because there was a negotiation with the RCMP for improved wages, et cetera, which I support," notes Knox. "I support what the RCMP received as what they needed. However, that went down to the municipalities to have to pay where we weren't at the table. We weren't involved in it, but it was put on us. So, we need the provincial government to help us ensure that that downloading doesn't happen."
Knox says the federal government should be paying that bill, and support from the province must be given to municipalities on that front.
The mayor adds that public safety concerns also include aspects that not many have focused upon as much as upon catch-and-release policies.
"Public safety is not only enforcement. Enforcement is one level of public safety, but addictions, mental health, and poverty; those are public safety issues. Recreation is a public safety issue. We need young people to be involved in meaningful activities, so the more money and the more funds and resources we put into those things, then the more we're going to have young people involved and, hopefully, not choosing a life of crime."
The mayor shares her thoughts on how you should vote for our MLA in Portage-Lisgar.
"We need somebody who understands our community, who really understands all facets of our community," says Knox. "In my opinion, we need somebody who not only understands what happens in our downtown city centre, we need somebody who can represent the farmers in our region because we're not just the city of Portage. We need someone who has a strong voice and who has some great experience. We need somebody who sees the big picture of our community. One thing I want citizens of Portage to ask the candidates or you, the media, to ask the candidates, is if their party is elected or they're elected, what are their thoughts on MDC (Manitoba Developmental Centre)? MDC is set to close in early 2024. It is closed right now, but there are assets there. There are buildings there. There's land there that can be repurposed into something very, very positive for our community."
Knox says jobs are there, as well, that the city doesn't want to leave. This means the province must have a plan for what they're going to do for that facility. She explains that they've heard different ideas ever since the closure was announced.
"As you can see, the needs of Portage la Prairie aren't much different than other municipalities in the province. We really need whoever forms provincial government to be the partner to the municipality. What we do affects people on a daily basis. It's the water that comes out of their taps. It's what goes down their drains. It can be things like infrastructure for roads and lighting. We know the provincial government is a partner in our Saskatchewan Avenue projects. So, we need to have those partners, and I think that this is an exciting election for the province as a whole, because there are so many issues that need to be addressed. I just think it's important when you're going out to vote, that you really look at what's important to you, what's important to municipalities and, also, most importantly, that you get out and vote."
The mayor says your voice is incredibly important, seeing as the MLA is going to present each of us.
"They have to be open to hearing what people say. I always say this about people running for municipal politics; you have to have the big picture of what you're looking at. You can't be focused on single-minded issues. I always say it's going to be a long few years if you've only single-minded issues because there's a lot more that goes on than that," adds Knox. "We're probably going to hear things coming up where you can hear these people speak. Take the time to do that when they come to your door. When they knock on your door, talk to them, have questions, and see what they have to say. "
Knox says she's a politician who doesn't like politics where all she's doing is pointing out what other people are doing wrong. She explains she wants everyone to know what they're going to do, seeing as that's how we will move forward.
"If you have somebody that's only pointing out what other people are doing wrong, then challenge them. Find out what they feel needs to happen in our community, or how they'd represent it, no matter what happens. For example, if an NDP person was elected here in Portage la Prairie, but maybe the Liberals form the government. That person's role changes completely, too. They're not part of the formed government. They have to be a voice for our municipality in a different way. So, are people ready for that as well?"
The mayor encourages everyone to vote on October 3rd, and says she's excited we have people in the parties in Portage who are running with all their various ideas.
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