By: Staff Writer
Winnipeg Free Press
The Manitoba government says a federal plan to stop funding band constables in 31 First Nations threatens public safety in those communities.
The province and the communities were given notice in early January that Ottawa would cease funding band constables as of March 31, 2015. The program has operated since 1969.
Justice Minister Andrew Swan said First Nations leaders he’s spoken to are "very concerned" about the move.
He spoke to a resolution, unanimously endorsed by NDP members attending the party’s annual general meeting on Sunday, calling upon the federal government to reverse the decision.
Swan said the move will effectively end "front-line policing" in many remote First Nation communities.
He said Ottawa has discussed the possibility of providing the province with the equivalent funding — $1.7 million a year — to purchase police services, but the solution has several drawbacks.
The province would only be able to hire the equivalent of about 15 Mounties with the money and, with round the clock shifts, that means there would be four additional officers on duty at any one time.
As well, band constables work under federal legislation that allows them to enforce band bylaws — an area that is out of provincial jurisdiction.
"You tell me how four officers on patrol are going to provide public safety to 31 First Nations across Manitoba including... remote first nations that are not connected to a road network," Swan told the more than 400 party members attending the convention at the Canad Inns Polo Park in Winnipeg.
"The Conservative government tells us they’re about law and order. They may be about law but they’re certainly not about order," he said to the crowd.
The three-day provincial NDP annual general meeting wrapped up during the noon hour, with closing remarks by Premier Greg Selinger.
He said he has "drawn strength" from the energy of delegates and pronounced that the party was "unified."
While there had been speculation that the premier’s decision to bounce former cabinet minister and Riel MLA Christine Melnick from his caucus may create dissension within the party's rank and file, there was little evidence of that at the weekend event.
Selinger received several loud ovations and, by all appearances, it was business as usual.
"I heard a real desire to make sure we’re focused on things that make a difference in Manitoba – a steadily growing economy, good jobs, quality health care, making sure the infrastructure is being built in this province," Selinger said. "Those are the kind of debates we had and I thought they were very productive."
The NDP also unveiled a new television attack ad that will air during the Olympic Games which portrays Conservative Leader Brian Pallister as a reckless cost-cutter.