Premier Brian Pallister says he has no immediate plans to share cannabis excise tax revenues with municipalities, arguing the province is unlikely to profit from levies on legalized recreational marijuana for some time.
In a wide-ranging speech to the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, Pallister said the province's priority continues to be to fix its finances and eliminate the deficit in the face of rising interest rates.
"We're doing it in spades, and we are doing it hard," the premier said of the deficit battle. He noted interest costs on the provincial debt are set to exceed $1 billion a year for the first time.
If reeves and mayors were looking for word the province planned to boost operating grants to municipalities after two years of funding freezes, they didn't hear it Monday, as Pallister addressed the AMM annual meeting in Winnipeg.
The association, which represents rural and urban municipalities, including the City of Winnipeg, has been pressing for a share of cannabis tax revenues for some time. A resolution to be debated at this week's convention urges the AMM to lobby the province for at least one-third of annual excise tax revenue collected in Manitoba.
However, the premier later said his government had no intention of sharing any such revenues — at least not while the province expects its costs from legalized pot to exceed the amount collected in taxes and other levies.
"You want revenue-sharing? There's no profit in cannabis. And there's no proof that there's going to be profit for some time. So don't ask for a share of profits when there aren't profits," he told reporters.
AMM president Chris Goertzen, who is stepping down from his position this week, said municipalities face considerable administrative and policing costs due to the legalization of cannabis, which came into effect Oct. 17.
"We want to make sure that we're not paying a price for a policy change that isn't our making," he said.
Municipalities also want assurances they will see at least an inflationary increase in provincial operating grants for the coming year, said Goertzen, who did not seek re-election as mayor of Steinbach this fall. He said local governments will continue to lobby for a funding increase.
"We've made it clear to the new minister of finance (Scott Fielding) that municipalities are feeling that pinch when it comes to the inflationary (cost) increases. And so we want to see that partnership reflect that inflationary cost."
Pallister also used the municipal forum as an opportunity to blast Ottawa for unnecessarily delaying environmental approval for the Lake Manitoba outlet channel.
He said he was promised by the prime minister the environmental process would take only one year, which is now about up. However, Ottawa has broadened the scope of the approval process, involving more communities, he said.
"At this rate, I will be 82 and that outlet won't be built yet," the 64-year-old premier said.
"It's got to be built. It's an emergency," he said, adding flood-prone Manitobans "have put their lives on hold for too long."
Meanwhile, Pallister also took a swipe at Toronto law firms whom he accused of offering their services to Interlake communities "on contingency," saying "they'll make them a lot of money" by threatening to delay such projects.
"My advice to those lawyers is get a job, get a real job. Stop coming to Manitoba and treating our people as pawns to generate revenue from your legal practices, because that is fundamentally not giving value to anyone," he said.
The premier refused to name which communities he was talking about.
The AMM annual meeting concludes Wednesday. The organization elects a new president Tuesday.
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.