Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Flood-protection 'crisis' contrived by NDP: Pallister

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THE Selinger government was accused Friday of trying to create a "crisis" over flood protection to justify raising taxes when its record of investing in flood protection has been so-so.

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister calculated that since the NDP came to power in 1999, it has spent less than one-half of one per cent of its budgets on flood mitigation and prevention.

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This occurred even though the government has enjoyed record revenues, adjusted for inflation, he said.

The government is attempting to justify a proposed PST hike, effective July 1, by arguing it needs to spend $1 billion on flood protection. But it doesn't have a flood-infrastructure spending plan, Pallister said.

Several of the projects the province has discussed as potential flood solutions have been on the drawing boards for more than a half a century, he said, displaying a stack of old reports.

"They've tried to manufacture, unsuccessfully, a crisis of their own making," Pallister said. His party has condemned the proposed PST hike.

"It's an excuse for jacking up taxes. Nothing more."

Pallister said in a time of prosperity, the government could have made progress on flood-mitigation projects it is now touting, such as a new outlet channel from Lake Manitoba and fortifying the banks of the Assiniboine River east of Portage la Prairie to Headingley.

He said in the 1990s, the Conservative government of Gary Filmon had fewer resources to tackle such projects due to a recession and federal cuts.

Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton rejected Pallister's criticisms.

He said the NDP has spent more than $1 billion on various flood-mitigation projects, including ring dikes for towns and expanding the capacity of the Red River Floodway.

He said the province has signalled its priority is to build a new outlet channel from Lake Manitoba and make an emergency outlet built in 2011 -- to help drain Lake St. Martin -- permanent.

Ashton questioned whether the Conservatives could make such investments without raising additional revenue. And in the face of their promised one per cent reduction in government expenditures and a freeze on certain government hires.

-- Larry Kusch

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2013 A13

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