Municipalities decry perceived lag in Manitoba pursuit of infrastructure funds

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OTTAWA — Manitoba municipalities fear the province isn’t moving fast enough to use a massive federal infrastructure program and get people working this summer.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/06/2020 (803 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba municipalities fear the province isn’t moving fast enough to use a massive federal infrastructure program and get people working this summer.

“It’s very frustrating, and it’s unfortunate. The losers are the municipalities,” said Ralph Groening, reeve of the RM of Morris, who leads the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.

Manitoba signed onto Ottawa’s massive Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) in June 2018, after a year-long dispute over how to pay for the proposed Interlake flood-channel outlets.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Ralph Groening, reeve of the RM of Morris and president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities: “It’s very frustrating, and it's unfortunate. The losers are the municipalities."

ICIP has provinces select and prioritize projects over the course of a decade, and send them to Ottawa for approval.

Manitoba’s $3-billion fund is shared by both levels of government, for a decade of projects divided into four quota streams.

Groening said the AMM helped the province analyze 281 funding proposals in February. He’s perplexed why the province hasn’t yet sent the list to Ottawa, so federal bureaucrats can vet them for final approval.

He said he’s stressed to ministers projects might not be green-lit in time for the looming construction season.

Critics have said Manitoba is a laggard on infrastructure money, but the province insists it’s in line with other jurisdictions in submitting requests. Ottawa does not publish data that would allow a comparison.

Infrastructure Canada would not say Thursday how many proposals it’s received from Manitoba in the fiscal year that recently ended — but it did specify it hasn’t yet received any applications under the public transit and rural/northern streams.

Three approved projects were announced in the April 2019-20 fiscal year, under the green and culture streams — it is unclear whether Manitoba has submitted any other applications under those two streams.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew argued the construction season has already started, and more people could be working if ICIP applications were already in the pipe.

“We’re in the midst of the worst global recession in living memory, and we know infrastructure spending is one of the best ways that government can stimulate the economy and bring about a recovery,” the Opposition leader said.

Last week, the Town of Snow Lake wrote to Municipal Relations Minister Rochelle Squires and Central Services Minister Reg Helwer, decrying delays in finalizing a sewage plant.

Mayor Peter Roberts wrote last fall’s elections delayed approvals, and his town expected Manitoba would submit applications by the end of January.

“Every reasonable attempt to get this issue addressed has lead us to one dead end after another,” Roberts wrote in a letter obtained by the Free Press.

Neither minister was made available for an interview, but Helwer wrote his plan has always been to submit applications by “late spring,” after ongoing talks with municipalities and First Nations.

“We are hoping to find flexible solutions to flow federal dollars more quickly into the province,” reads the statement attributed to Helwer.

Kinew said more groundwork should have been laid before the COVID-19 pandemic reached Manitoba in March.

“The government ought to be doing everything within its power to make up for the lost time that’s come as a result of their delays,” he said, chalking this up to a “(Premier Brian) Pallister playbook” of pushing off Ottawa’s cost-sharing programs.

Before the pandemic, the federal Liberal government spent far above its promised amounts, while the provincial Pallister government has long been committed to balancing its books.

The two have thus sparred over numerous cost-shared programs, from carbon retrofits to housing and infrastructure.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Thursday, June 4, 2020 7:29 PM CDT: corrects information about Chris Goertzen

Updated on Thursday, June 4, 2020 7:49 PM CDT: Updates story to final version.

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