Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

$100 million census dispute between Manitoba and Ottawa is back

Province certain of StatsCan error

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Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver said he's confident in Statistics Canada's estimate of Manitoba's population despite the agency's recent error on job creation.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver said he's confident in Statistics Canada's estimate of Manitoba's population despite the agency's recent error on job creation. Photo Store

A dispute between Manitoba and Ottawa over a Statistics Canada population estimate continues to simmer -- Friday, Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver was drawn into the eight-month dispute during a trip to Winnipeg.

Oliver refused to give any ground.

Manitoba Jobs and the Economy Minister Theresa Oswald brought the matter up with the federal minister in a morning meeting at the legislature, at which she also raised concerns over flat federal transfer payments and the costs of the 2014 summer flood.

Manitoba says Statistics Canada has underestimated its population by up to 18,000 people -- meaning the province stands to lose $100 million in federal transfers a year.

Following a noon-hour speech to the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce at a downtown hotel, Oliver defended the agency's population estimate at the same time he faced questions about an agency fiasco over its July job numbers. On Friday, the agency admitted Canada created 42,000 jobs -- not a paltry 200 -- last month as it first reported.

Oliver called the faulty job count "a regrettable error" but held firm the agency was not mistaken in its estimate of the province's population following the 2011 census.

"No, I don't believe so," he said when it was suggested that the national agency could have been wrong that time as well.

Manitobans' participation in the census was higher than the Canadian average so "there's confidence" in the agency's numbers, the federal minister told reporters. "As a result of concerns expressed by the government of Manitoba, Statistics Canada looked at this issue specifically and they are comfortable that their approach is sound."

However, a few hours earlier in meeting with Manitoba officials, Oliver committed to speak to his colleague, James Moore, the minister responsible for Statistics Canada, about the issue.

Oswald said she pressed Oliver for federal agreement to appoint an expert panel of statisticians to examine the dispute between Ottawa and Manitoba. The province will abide by the panel's determination, she vowed.

The province says the agency stated Manitoba's 2011 population estimate at 1,251,690 but then reduced it to 1,233,728. The reduction is not consistent with the number of Manitoba tax returns at the time, the provincial bureau of statistics has said.

Oswald said what is frustrating for Manitoba is Statistics Canada initially identified the anomaly, but decided not to do anything about it.

"We are just asking, nay pleading, for a second look at this because we've seen very recently that it is possible for an error to be made (by StatsCan)," she said.

Oliver called the July jobs error "regrettable" on Friday, but said he has not lost confidence in the agency.

"It's had a long-term record of competence and integrity. They made a mistake; they corrected it. And we hope that will inspire the type of confidence that clearly Statistics Canada needs going forward," he said.

Meanwhile, Oswald also briefed the federal minister on the financial impacts of this year's Manitoba flood. The preliminary estimate is it has cost the province $200 million. On Friday, the provincial Department of Finance issued a special warrant to provide the government with an additional $100 million for immediate emergency spending resulting from the flood.

Oswald said she also drew Oliver's attention to the fact total federal transfer payments to Manitoba have been "flat" for five years while other provinces have received big increases.

The anomaly arises from changes in Ottawa's funding formula, she said.

"Only Newfoundland in the nation is experiencing that kind of hit," Oswald said. "At the same time, we're seeing a 66 per cent increase to Alberta, over 30 per cent to Ontario, around 20 per cent to Saskatchewan."

Oswald said she believes Oliver took the province's concern seriously.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

agency bungled jobs report B7

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2014 A14

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