Winnipeg Free Press Newspaper Archives Mar 18 2015, Page 12

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Winnipeg Free Press (Newspaper) - March 18, 2015, Winnipeg, Manitoba C M Y K PAGE B4 B 4 WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18, 2015 MANITOBA LEGISLATURE winnipegfreepress. com THE political fallout from the NDP leadership race involving talk of a debt Greg Selinger owed to the firefighters union saw Health Minister Sharon Blady opt to put off a decision on the paramedic union’s request for self- regulation. The paramedics union feared the Selinger campaign team, which included Blady, had made a deal with the firefighters union not to allow selfregulation by the paramedics. Both the Selinger team and the firefighters union deny the claim. Now the Selinger government says it wants evidence of broad- based support for self- regulation by paramedics before allowing them to form their own professional regulatory body. And the president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg says that consensus must include support from firefighters who work as paramedics throughout the province. On Tuesday, Blady released the report of an advisory council set up to assist the government in determining whether certain health professions should be self- regulated. The advisory council had examined a request from the Paramedic Association of Manitoba ( PAM) that paramedics be self- regulated in a similar manner to doctors and nurses. Among its recommendations is that a College of Paramedics of Manitoba only proceed after PAM provides evidence of “ a satisfactory level of support” among paramedics to the health minister. Blady has asked the council to hold additional discussions with paramedics and other unspecified parties, and ultimately decide whether support exists to establish a regulatory college of paramedics. The council will report to the minister with the results. “ The chief concern of any regulatory college must be public safety and protection,” Blady wrote in a statement. “ The council has kept this responsibility to Manitoba families at the fore throughout this process… I’m confident the paramedic profession will see the value of this important work and will participate in the process to build consensus.” UFFW president Alex Forrest said Tuesday consensus must include his members, not to mention firefighter paramedics in Brandon and Thompson. “ That’s the whole purpose of being a self- regulating profession,” he said. “ The whole profession comes forward and asks to be self- regulated under the following guidelines.” Forrest said his organization has never said it is “ strictly opposed” to self- regulation, but it did oppose PAM’s application because it was left out of the process. He produced a copy of a letter dated June 18, 2012, by officials of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority expressing concerns with the application. He said his members are open- minded about self- regulation, and are now satisfied they will be included in future discussions. Forrest and Blady faced allegations from the recent NDP convention that they struck a deal to delay or quash self- regulation by paramedics in exchange for firefighter support for Selinger’s bid to retain the leadership. Both have strenuously denied the minister promised to intervene on the firefighters’ behalf, and both did so again Tuesday. “ They never asked for intervention, and I never offered intervention,” the minister said. Eric Glass, administrative director of the Paramedic Association of Manitoba, said his organization was pleased with the report as a stepping stone toward self- regulation. “ I have to admit I’m pleasantly surprised, but I’m also optimistic in the sense that I think the council has done its homework, and I don’t think there’s anything in the report that we could really argue with,” he said. “ I think that they want to ensure that the minister has unqualified consensus among the 2,500 or so EMS licensed providers that there are in the province.” Blady said she spoke with Forrest Tuesday before releasing the report and she’s pleased his members have agreed to participate in the process. Asked whether firefighter support was crucial to self- regulation, Blady deflected the question, saying: “ I think it goes to the broader concept of consensus building as was outlined in the report.” The decision as to whether paramedic self- regulation proceeds is the health minister’s decision. Blady would not say whether she would be in a position to make a decision before the April 2016 election. She said she did not want to impose timelines on the advisory council. Forrest said he doubts the process would be over by then. “ It will take years,” he said. larry. kusch@ freepress. mb. ca bruce. owen@ freepress. mb. ca THE Manitoba government has adopted a $ 135- million plan to install sprinklers in all provincially run personal care homes, hospitals and child facilities in the next decade. The cost estimate is contained in a report released Tuesday that examined what must be done to make the facilities safer in the aftermath of the Jan. 2014 fire at a nursing home in L’Isle- Verte, Que., that killed 32 people. The report, prepared by the Office of the Fire Commissioner, found while steps are being taken to equip buildings with sprinklers, there was still a $ 60- million shortfall in funding. Fire Commissioner David Schafer said he expects the government to find the money in the next 10 years. “ What the sprinklers do is not only protect the property — they provide time for the evacuation of everybody,” Schafer said. “ It will help save lives.” The report found that of the approximately 200 health care and personal care facilities in the province, only 89 have a full sprinkler system. Another 47 have a partial sprinkler system and 64 have no sprinkler system. The estimated cost to install sprinklers in these buildings is $ 125 million over 10 years. All provincial care and treatment facilities built since 1998 have sprinklers. The task force recommended making sprinklers mandatory in child and adult residential care facilities with a minimum of five occupants, which are licensed by Manitoba Family Services under Community Living Disability Services and Manitoba Child and Family Services. These include assisted- living facilities, group homes and hospices. Of the approximately 1,221 residential and child care facilities in Manitoba, 995 or 81 per cent don’t have a sprinkler system. The estimated costs of installing sprinklers in these buildings is $ 10.4 million. Labour Minister Erna Braun, who isresponsible for the fire commissioner, and Health Minister Sharon Blady, said some money is already being spent. Blady said future funding for sprinklers will be made in the “ normal budgetary process.” Braun said the government is committed to spending more than $ 70 million for fire and safety upgrades in the next 10 years. A $ 7- million project is underway to install sprinklers in five personal care homes and one hospital in 2015- 16, and another 18 will get fire and life- safety improvements. The province said about 70 per cent of health- care and personal care homes already have full or partial sprinkler systems, and an additional 24 projects are underway. The government is spending an additional $ 2 million to work with experts to assess all 125 personal care homes and 62 hospitals to develop an inventory of fire and safety systems, and a 10- year plan for prioritizing facility upgrades. The Quebec government said last month it will make it mandatory for all existing private seniors homes to be equipped with automatic sprinklers. Last year, Ontario required all retirement homes to have automatic sprinkler systems. Schafer said much of what’s recommended in the report is based on what’s happening in Ontario. “ This is an important step forward for Manitoba,” he said. “ Ontario and ourselves are moving in the same direction.” bruce. owen@ freepress. mb. ca T HE Selinger government is doubling the maximum school tax rebate for seniors to $ 470 from $ 235 this year. Finance Minister Greg Dewar said further details of the rebate will be released in the government’s budget April 30. “ When you add this property tax credit with others that we’ve offered, seniors can save up to $ 1,570 this year off their property tax bills,” Dewar said Tuesday. The rebate was a 2011 election promise the NDP made so seniors on fixed incomes could afford to stay in their own homes longer, as property values and property taxes escalate. The rebate is in addition to a $ 700 education property tax credit and up to $ 400 in the seniors education property tax credit top- up. Dewar said the goal is to eliminate school taxes for qualifying seniors by 2016. The next election is in April 2016. Originally, the government had planned to eliminate the school tax for seniors by 2015, but it was delayed a year to allow it extra time to get the budget deficit under control. Dewar said the tax rebate will cost the treasury $ 11 million, but will add about 6,700 seniors to the list of those who do not pay school taxes on the education portion of their municipal property tax bill. The 2014 rebates were expected to total $ 15 million. Conservative Cameron Friesen said the rebate serves as a reminder the government won’t live up to its 2011 promise to eliminate school taxes for seniors by 2015. “ The NDP announced that it would fail, once again, to keep their promise to relieve all seniors from paying school tax,” he said Tuesday. The NDP came under fire for breaking its 2011 campaign promise to maintain the provincial sales tax at seven per cent. It jumped to eight per cent in 2013 and prompted an internal revolt Premier Greg Selinger survived at a party convention earlier this month. Seniors can apply for the rebate when they get their municipal tax bills. To qualify, a senior must own and live in their home and be at least 65 by the end of 2015. They must have school taxes not already fully covered by the existing education property tax credit. Seniors have until the end of the month to apply for the 2014 rebate. An estimated 80,000 homes are owned by seniors in Manitoba, the province has said, with about 17,000 having their school taxes fully covered by the education property tax credit and seniors’ school tax rebate. The government has been struggling to balance its books after a string of deficits that started in 2009. A sluggish national economy caused federal equalization payments to drop, and flooding in 2011 required hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation and repairs. Selinger has rejected calls for sharp spending cuts. He instead launched an infrastructure program, raised several taxes and user fees and pushed back his plan to balance the budget to 2017 from 2015. Both Selinger and Dewar have said they will not meet the target if it requires deep cuts. The government is forecasting a $ 394- million deficit for the fiscal year that ends March 31 — $ 37 million higher than budgeted. — with files from The Canadian Press bruce. owen@ freepress. mb. ca Paramedic- regulation report quells anger By Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen The task force made six recommendations: . Installing sprinklers in new residentialcare facilities for children and adults. . Installing sprinklers in all existing treatment and care facilities. . Increasing training available to local authorities. . Adopting a consistent approach to fire safety inspections. . Increasing public awareness about fire safety. . Adding resources to the Office of the Fire Commissioner and local fire authorities for planning, inspections and reporting. The report is at www. firecomm. gov. mb. ca Facilities need $ 135M for sprinklers ‘ When you add this property tax credit with others that we’ve offered, seniors can save up to $ 1,570 this year off their property tax bills’ — Finance Minister Greg Dewar NDP has budget goody for seniors Demographic targeted a year before election By Bruce Owen Gail Finkel, an advocate for people with disabilities ( from left), Labour Minister Erna Braun and Health Minister Sharon Blady release the task force report. Province adopts safety task force report By Bruce Owen PHOTOS BY JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Finance Minister Greg Dewar said the 2015- 16 provincial budget will be unveiled April 30. As a teaser, he announced tax breaks for seniors, a key voting bloc. B_ 04_ Mar- 18- 15_ FP_ 01. indd B4 3/ 17/ 15 11: 07: 58 PM

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