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This article was published 2/3/2019 (527 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Premier Brian Pallister is accusing the federal Liberals of spreading false information about Manitoba’s untapped funding allocations, in order to distract from the ongoing SNC-Lavalin scandal.
"I don’t like to sound defensive, but when my government and my ministers are under attack, based on false assumptions and misrepresentations, I think it’s necessary to respond," the premier said Saturday, reaching out to the Free Press after a week of federal criticism toward his government.
Pallister said Ottawa should focus on getting a major flood-prevention project underway, instead of dedicating its energy to what he deems an "orchestrated attack" on his PC government.
"They’re attempting to do to me and my government exactly what they’re now trying to do to Jody Wilson-Raybould, and I don’t think that’s appropriate," Pallister said, adding there’s "no justification."
While the Trudeau government has previously been vocal about delays in the province accessing federal cash, the Liberals escalated their tone this past week, starting with a Toronto MP’s exceptional criticism on a call-in radio show.
Liberal MP Adam Vaughan singled out Manitoba on the air, saying the Pallister government was "refusing to take federal dollars to house people" due to a "clash of ideologies" over budgets and debt.
By Tuesday, federal sources were telling the Free Press about delays in multiple funding programs, amounting to a total of $1.9 billion sitting on the table for Manitoba projects spanning the next decade. Most of that cash has been initially agreed to, but requires individual proposals or inking final deals.
More than half that money falls under the so-called Phase 2 infrastructure program; many of these projects require the province to contribute a significant chunk in order to receive federal funds.
On Friday, International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr implored members of Manitoba’s heavy-construction industry to start lobbying Pallister to get that cash flowing, warning about "politicians bickering."
Yet the premier said Ottawa’s not telling the full story. His office pointed to a pending $160-million claim under Phase 2 submitted last June, while Ottawa recently approved a separate $9-million project.
"I will simply defend Jim Carr here and say he may not be aware of any of this. And I’m assuming that from his comments," the premier said Saturday.
Pallister believes his government is behind on accessing cash through three funding streams because it decided to join all of them later than other provinces, as it had sought concessions.
Two of those include healthcare and carbon retrofits.
Pallister also confirmed the Free Press’ reporting that the the Lake St. Martin/Lake Manitoba flood channel outlets project was a source of tension that delayed the rollout of the Phase 2 infrastructure funding.
In the initial Phase 2 bilateral proposal dated July 6, 2017, Manitoba’s green infrastructure allocation was just over $450 million, with almost $250 million of that going to the outlets project.
By the time the province signed the agreement on June 4, 2018, the channels outlet project had been funded through a separate disaster management allocation. The province retained its $450 million in green funding, after successfully pushing Ottawa to fund the outlets channel separately, instead of the project eating up most of its green infrastructure cash.
"We did not go out as a government and try to point fingers at the federal government for trying to avoid their obligations on the outlet, or on the (carbon-retrofit) fund," Pallister said. "I’m not going to try to re-till that field."
The premier spoke at length Saturday about the channel outlets, repeating his concern that Ottawa’s one-year review could stretch out much longer, because its 365-day timeline pauses when large issues emerge.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency formed an arms-length advisory panel that includes communities far downstream from the lakes involved. Ottawa said this is part on an independent regulatory process, but the premier warned it could gum up the process.
Pallister said the province’s recent flood warning means "we should be reminding each other of the importance of working together, to protect Manitobans."
Manitoba is also among eight jurisdictions that haven’t signed a bilateral agreement for the national housing strategy, earmarked at $302.7 million. Pallister said Manitoba’s housing negotiations are ongoing, and he pointed to increased funding in housing programs through the provincial Families department in rejecting Vaughan’s claim that he’d "refused" to expend cash to house people.
The premier stressed he has a good working relationship with the Liberals, citing co-operation in everything from agriculture to cultural funding.
"I’m not into the finger-pointing, and we are gonna turn the other cheek on these comments. I’ll simply say, I think Manitobans understand what’s going on, and I don’t think that they’ll appreciate the attempt to distract," he said.
"This is counter-productive, where the federal government’s been going in the last week, and I think people will understand why they’re taking this tack."