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This article was published 14/11/2013 (2165 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The $5.5-billion, five-year commitment the Selinger government made Tuesday to improve Manitoba's crumbling infrastructure is not what it appears to be on the surface.
Under questioning Thursday, Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton admitted the ambitious target includes at least some matching funds from Ottawa and the municipalities. He said he could not estimate how much — since project-by-project funding has yet to be worked out.
The admission the $5.5 billion — the gaudiest number in Tuesday's throne speech — was not a provincial figure provoked incredulity from the Progressive Conservative Opposition.
"This is a shell game," said PC Leader Brian Pallister. "They're inflating their commitment by trying to take credit for partnership dollars."
The commitment to "core infrastructure" was presented as a justification for the government's unpopular decision last spring to raise the provincial sales tax by one percentage point. The PST hike is expected to raise $278 million a year.
The government said strategic investments in highways, bridges, flood protection and infrastructure will help power the economy.
"Over five years, investments in these key areas are expected to reach $5.5 billion," the government said in the speech. "This plan will be delivered with the next provincial budget and will prepare us to secure matching federal dollars."
The NDP never said the $5.5-billion figure was provincial money but it left that impression and was reported as such by the media. Ashton's clarification came as he responded to Tory criticisms Thursday the provincial NDP has consistently underspent its infrastructure budgets since 2009.
The Conservatives said in 2012 the NDP promised to spend $1.72 billion on infrastructure but only spent $1.23 billion. Over the past four years, the government has spent a little less than $3 of every $4 it earmarked for infrastructure improvements, the Tories said.
"If infrastructure is such a top priority with this government now, why wasn't it a top priority last year or the year before?" said Pallister.
Ashton said it was unfair to criticize the government for spending less than budgeted on infrastructure projects in 2011-12 when it was focusing on battling one of the worst floods in the province's history.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.