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This article was published 1/3/2019 (289 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr rallied members of Manitoba’s heavy construction industry at a breakfast Friday morning in Winnipeg, urging them to join him in working to get federal funds "flowing to Manitoba" to get "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects built.
"I can’t do this alone, and I am asking for your help. Contact your councillors, and especially your MLAs, to let them know you want the provincial government to approve shovel-ready projects now," Manitoba’s lone federal cabinet minister told around 150 people.
"It cannot be understated how vital these projects are to Manitoba. It is important that no federal dollars are left on the table."
Carr is ratcheting up his tone amid concerns the province will lose out on the major funding planks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has used to justify running federal deficits.
Premier Brian Pallister has rejected those concerns as Ottawa’s attempt to distract from the SNC-Lavalin affair.
A combined $1.9 billion is sitting on the table for Manitoba for projects spanning the next decade, from the housing strategy to carbon retrofits to mental-health investments.
More than half that cash falls under the so-called Phase 2 infrastructure program, which kicks off a decade of spending one month from now. Many of these projects require the province to contribute a significant chunk in order to receive federal funds.
While Manitoba has either signed or consented to interim agreements for the combined $1.9 billion, some of the actual contracts, including the health accord, have yet to be signed. While other programs, such as conservation funding, have seen the province submit priority projects only this week.
Carr told the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association it is "an essential partner" with the federal government in "shovel-ready projects that will create jobs and grow our economy" and the projects "just need the final approvals from the province to get underway."
But Pallister’s spokesman said Manitoba submitted a $160-million claim last June and is still waiting for a response, while another $9-million project was recently approved.
"If Minister Carr really wants to be constructive he can talk to (Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe) Champagne, and accurately confirm the infrastructure funding situation in Manitoba," wrote David von Meyenfeldt.
Earlier, during a question period that followed his speech, Carr said he is trying to facilitate important meetings with Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and Pallister, but suggested Pallister himself doesn’t need to participate.
"If the premier wants to send deputy premier (Heather) Stefanson to a meeting, that’s good," Carr said.
He also advised against "politicians bickering," a word he used to describe the Pallister government in December 2017 but had since avoided until now.
These tensions came to a head Sunday, when Toronto MP Adam Vaughan singled out Manitoba during a phone-in radio show, saying the Pallister government was "refusing to take federal dollars to house people" due to a "clash of ideologies" over budgets and debt.
Pallister’s office reiterated its demand Friday that Vaughan apologize for the comments.
Carr said a better focus than pursuing apologies would be to get projects moving, noting with support from voices in the crowd that Manitoba construction season is only about six months long.
That would also give Liberal MPs some ribbon-cutting announcements ahead of the October election. But bureaucrats say Ottawa also has limited room to approve or revise projects under election rules if Manitoba submits applications too close to the fall vote.
Carr said "lost opportunity" is the danger Manitoba faces if the federal funding is left on the table.
Parliamentary bureau chief
In Ottawa, Dylan enjoys snooping through freedom-of-information requests and asking politicians: "What about Manitoba?"
Updated on Friday, March 1, 2019 at 3:37 PM CST: Writethru