Local News Briefs

Manitoba’s deficit nears $1B

The province posted a record deficit of $999 million last year, the Winnipeg Free Press reports. The 2011 flood pushed the deficit that high, finance minister Stan Struthers said. The cost of the flood stands at $975 million. “The flood was unprecedented, with an unprecedented price tag,” he said. The deficit is more than double the $438-million deficit originally predicted, according to the Free Press. Meanwhile, the province is halfway towards its goal in slashing a targeted $128 million in program spending, Struthers said. The provincial deficit in 2010 was $179 million, according to the Free Press.

Chief of staff nets six-figure severance

A former advisor to Manitoba premiers Gary Doer and Greg Selinger walked away from the job earlier this year with a six-figure severance package, the Canadian Press reports. Michael Balagus, who served as chief of staff to both premiers since 2003, received close to $347,000 in the last fiscal year, which ended in March, according to documents obtained by CP. The province did not provide a detailed breakdown of the severance, but a spokesperson said it was a standard severance package. Balagus left his job in January, three months before the end of the fiscal year. The previous year, Balagus received close to $160,000. His replacement, Liam Martin, was hired in September with a starting salary of $132,000, according to CP.

Liberation therapy comes to Winnipeg

The City of Winnipeg has been selected as one of four cities in Canada to take part in a clinical trial study of the controversial MS treatment liberation therapy, the Winnipeg Free Press reports. Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced the study Sept. 28 at a federal-provincial meeting of health ministers in Halifax. Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec City will also take part in the $6-million study. The study will determine whether liberation therapy, which involves inserting stents in certain veins in the neck to improve blood flow, is an effective treatment for MS, the Free Press reported. The treatment is not available in Canada, forcing many to travel abroad to receive the treatment. About 100 patients will take part in the initial phase of the study. Later phases are expected to involve far more participants.

More legal aid lawyers needed

More than 200 private lawyers are needed to help clear legal aid cases jamming the provincial courts, the Winnipeg Sun reports. Legal Aid Manitoba chairman Mario Santos said only a third of the 300 lawyers registered with legal aid provide regular service – a fifth of regular contributors 15 years ago. To keep pace with recent police and prosecutor staffing increases, about 200 more regular private lawyers are needed, Santos told the Sun. University of Manitoba law professor David Asper said the shortage is forcing more defendants to represent themselves, in turn jeopardizing victims’ rights. Legal Aid has about 75 of its own staff lawyers. Private lawyers earn about $80 an hour working legal aid, far short of the $200/hour they can earn working privately. The province increased legal aid hourly rates in 2008 but hasn’t raised them since, Santos said.

Published in Volume 67, Number 5 of The Uniter (October 3, 2012)

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