OTTAWA — The federal Liberals haven’t given Manitoba a penny of the $247-million they pledged for Premier Brian Pallister’s legacy flood-channel project.
Ottawa is withholding the money that it announced with great fanfare in June 2018, over its concerns the province botched consultations with Indigenous groups.
The project is supposed to reduce the risk of Interlake flooding.
Pallister plans to discuss the project when he meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Winnipeg Monday, during the Liberal cabinet retreat.
The fact funding has been withheld was revealed in a letter obtained through a freedom of information request.
"Manitoba is seeking to expedite the signature of this contribution agreement to submit claims. However, delays in negotiations have been encountered," reads an August 2019 letter written by then-infrastructure minister Francois-Philippe Champagne to Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton.
In June 2018, Ottawa unveiled it would split the cost of the $500-million Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin outlet channels with the province.
Infrastructure Canada confirmed Friday the contract remains unsigned 19 months later. Manitoba has spent $50 million on the project, which it estimates will cost $540 million.
In order for the money to flow, Manitoba has to pass its environmental assessment, which centres heavily on finding out how the channels will affect Indigenous communities, and the plans to mitigate those effects.
The Pallister government has decried the regulator for adding more reserves and towns to the list of groups Manitoba must consult, and beefing up the requirements for those consultations.
However, the province submitted an environmental assessment in August 2019 that makes it clear Manitoba officials hadn’t done consultations with some of the reserves on the original list issued by the federal government in May 2018.
That assessment omitted technical reports, had vague contingency plans, and even had an inaccurate table of contents.
Two provincial ministers declined interview requests, but a Tory spokeswoman noted the Liberals promised funding in March 2016, before actually earmarking it in May 2018.
"Delays in finalizing the formal contribution agreement raise additional concerns about whether the federal government fully appreciates how critically important this flood protection project is for all Manitobans," wrote the spokeswoman.
"Our own government’s consistent and ongoing efforts to expedite federal action will continue."
In the past, the federal Liberals insisted the $247.5 million they pledged in spring 2018 shows they’re committed to the project, which they note is the first of a landmark disaster-mitigation program.
The August 2019 letter lays out a proposal the Liberals made to the Pallister government "to reduce our respective governments’ legal, financial and reputational risks," but bureaucrats censored those details under freedom of information exemptions for federal-provincial deliberations.
Neither government would specify Friday what side-deal Ottawa had proposed, nor whether Manitoba accepted it.
"The government of Canada recognizes the importance of timely decision-making in the face of continued vulnerabilities and flood mitigation needs" in the Interlake, Infrastructure Canada spokeswoman Lama Khodr wrote.
Manitoba Tory MP Candice Bergen said, an "ever-changing goalpost" threatens a project that federal parties started promising in the 2015 election.
"There is no way that this should be taking so long," said the rural MP.
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