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Multiplex divide emphasized in Dawson Trail forum

By: Ian Froese

Posted: 04/13/2016 11:09 AM

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David Sutherland of the Manitoba Party speaks during the Dawson Trail candidates forum held Tuesday night in Ile des Chenes.


David Sutherland of the Manitoba Party speaks during the Dawson Trail candidates forum held Tuesday night in Ile des Chenes.


If the Lorette multiplex is the wedge issue deciding your vote in Dawson Trail, the candidates surely made their divergent stances clear during an all-candidates forum Tuesday.

Progressive Conservative candidate Bob Lagasse questioned whether Lorette could afford a multiplex when Steinbach, a bigger locale, recently set the course to abandon its own multiplex, although they still laid the groundwork for future recreation projects to proceed.

"There’s no denying that the Lorette arena needs to be repaired but does it need to necessarily be a huge community centre like that?" asked Lagasse.

New Democratic candidate Roxane Dupuis replied her party's $8 million pledge did not "fall from the sky," and was informed by a long-standing desire in Lorette for a hub for community life, which would include another ice surface, daycare spaces and a library.

"For any one of us to come in at this stage of the game and take it off the table I think is very rude and unexpected," said Dupuis.

"I think the people of Lorette deserve better and I think the people of Dawson Trail deserve better from their MLA and their government."

The four candidates seeking to replace retired MLA Ron Lemieux squared off at the TransCanada Centre in Ile des Chenes Tuesday night for a cordial candidates forum, perhaps to a fault, considering the occasionally conflicting views. Candidates had two minutes to respond to each question but rarely used their allotted time to directly challenge their rivals.

About 125 people attended the forum put on by The Carillon, with as many tuning into the live broadcast online.

Liberal Terry Hayward affirmed his support for the Lorette multiplex, saying his party’s vow to give one percent of the PST to municipalities would ensure recreation projects like Lorette’s would move ahead. He said government assistance is needed, especially when Dawson Trail doesn’t have the big industries to make large donations, which the rink expansion in La Broquerie and the arena in Beausejour benefited from.

David Sutherland with the Manitoba Party was less effusive in supporting the multiplex. He felt Lemieux’s $8 million commitment, made in the form of a piece of paper last Christmas eve, was an election stunt. "Ron’s hand grenade was designed to blow up in everybody’s faces here," said Sutherland, who added Lorette should raise considerable funds, proving their "sweat equity," before the province steps in.

Participating in a public forum appeared nerve-wracking to Lagasse, who admitted to the crowd more than once that he was nervous.

"Again, I sound like someone who doesn’t really know what's going on but the reality is my heart is in the right place," said Lagasse.

He came into his own, though, when he spoke of his children.

He cried himself as he recalled seeing his own children’s tears while trying to understand a school concept. "It's tough as a parent to watch your children struggle in a system that’s set up by a government that should be working to benefit your kids and help them," said the Landmark resident.

Later, the PC candidate, who is a foster parent to two girls, fought back tears again when asked how foster care can be fixed. He felt there is no easy solution but said once children become permanent wards of the state, adoption should be n option.

Dawson Trail has been a Southeast anomaly in the past, the lone NDP seat in a region of the province awash in Tory blue. But with Lemieux's retirement and the governing party's sagging fortunes provincially, the riding is in play, the candidates have recognized.

The PCs have played second-fiddle in each of Lemieux’s four electoral victories.

Dupuis, who succeeded the former cabinet minister as the NDP's standard-bearer, stuck to the party’s main campaign themes, defending the PST increase and saying further investments in infrastructure, like roads, flood protection and schools, will ensure Dawson Trail remains a desirable place to live.

"The NDP has not always gotten it right, but I think the NDP is the best party to continue to provide the services that my family and so many others rely on," said Dupuis, executive director of Manitoba’s francophone youth association. She referenced improving the offerings at Ste Anne Hospital and building an ambulance station in Ile des Chenes among the projects the NDP has done for Dawson Trail.

She warned a PC government, who previously cut 700 teachers would harm front-line services again.

"We already ask so much of teachers," said Dupuis. "We should be giving them more resources, not taking them away."

Hayward, a former civil servant, said a provincial Liberal government would tap into the influx of infrastructure dollars the federal government promised. Hayward is well-acquainted with the government federally, carrying their banner in three Provencher elections.

"We can do it ourselves, we know what our priorities are, but we need a partnership of the federal government, the municipal governments, the provincial government and the people of Dawson Trail," he said.

Hayward said the NDP cannot be trusted to follow through on their commitments, and cuts from a PC government would inflict too much damage.

Manitoba Party candidate David Sutherland, a sign-maker from Landmark who ran last fall for the riding’s PC nomination, drew comparisons to the prosperous Saskatchewan Party as a model he wants to emulate.

He chastised the medical system as overloaded with expensive management and the government for engaging in poor road construction methods. He added it is not the government’s role to create jobs but rather provide the right conditions for business to succeed, such as by cutting taxes.

"We have an opportunity to rise above the muck created by tired old ideas and tired old parties," said Sutherland.

In-depth profiles on the four Dawson Trail candidates are available in the next edition of The Carillon, available on Apr. 14.

A replay of the forum, which was seen live on The Carillon's website, can be viewed below.

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