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Tories play Manitoba 150 marketing ploy

Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/1/2020 (190 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The problem with the Pallister government’s decision to rebrand $45 million of infrastructure spending as "Manitoba 150" anniversary costs is it gives the appearance the province is spending lavishly on the year-long celebration. In fact, the province took $45 million of regular road and highway funding and called it "Manitoba 150" spending.

Manitoba 150 party price tag too rich for some: poll

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DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Manitoba Legislature is lit up to celebrate Manitoba 150 in early December 2019.
DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES The Manitoba Legislature is lit up to celebrate Manitoba 150 in early December 2019.

Posted: 02/01/2020 3:00 AM

Most Manitobans know about the 150th anniversary party the province is throwing itself this year, but not everyone is happy about the cost.

That’s clear from the results of a Probe Research poll commissioned by the Free Press, in which 41 per cent of respondents said the $50 million earmarked for building projects and celebrations is too rich for their blood.

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It has nothing to do with the anniversary. The province is just fixing some roads and intersections.

A Probe Research poll conducted for the Free Press shows most people support the amount the Tories propose to spend on Manitoba’s birthday celebration. Some think it should be higher. But 41 per cent view the $45 million on "building projects", as well as $5 million in other spending, as too costly.

What they probably don’t know is the $45 million on capital projects is just regular roads and highway maintenance. The province just rebranded it under the "Manitoba 150" banner.

The list of projects is fairly mundane. It includes the repaving of Memorial Boulevard from Broadway to York Avenue, concrete rehabilitation for Highway 9A in Selkirk from Heap Avenue to Strathnaver Avenue, and gravel road restoration on Provincial Road 216.

It includes intersection improvements in Brandon, paving the airport access road in that city, highway upgrades in Gilbert Plains and Grandview, shoulder repairs, and gravel road restoration in the north. There are also several road improvements in Whiteshell and Turtle Mountain provincial parks.

All told, 17 roads and highways projects were announced last year under the Manitoba 150 spending plan. It’s all necessary infrastructure, but it’s not sexy stuff. Rebranding it simply gives the province the ability to slap a "Manitoba 150" logo on a project that would likely have been budgeted anyway.

Fountain repair on province's 150th birthday list

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The fountain in Memorial Park requires mechanical, electrical and structural upgrades. Lighting, seating and signage around the fountain will also be improved. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press files)						</p>
The fountain in Memorial Park requires mechanical, electrical and structural upgrades. Lighting, seating and signage around the fountain will also be improved. (Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Posted: 23/04/2019 3:48 PM

The province will restore the fountain at Memorial Park and rehab a section of Memorial Boulevard it owns as part of $45 million in infrastructure projects to mark the province's 150th birthday celebrations.

The first round of projects under the program was announced Tuesday at a news conference in Memorial Park.

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It doesn’t change the overall roads and highways budget much.

The Pallister government budgeted $624 million for roads, highways, bridges and flood protection in 2018-19. It ended up spending $541 million. Infrastructure spending sometimes comes under budget because projects get delayed and lapse to the next year. As a result, the numbers tend to fluctuate from year to year.

In 2019-20, the province budgeted $605 million for that same area of spending. Manitoba Finance’s mid-term fiscal update shows the province is on track to spend $603 million of that budget line. The $45 million for Manitoba 150 projects is in a separate part of the budget, listed under "enabling appropriations." When added to the $603 million, it brings projected spending on roads, highways, bridges and flood protection to $648 million for 2019-20.

That’s higher than the $541 million government that was spent a year earlier, but it’s similar to the $653 million spent in 2017-18.

The Pallister government is spending less on highways and strategic infrastructure than the former NDP government did in its final years in office. That has drawn the ire of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association, which says the province should spend more on highways.

However, there’s a reason the province reduced capital spending when it was elected in 2016. The former government quadrupled infrastructure spending to $1.6 billion annually in its last 10 years in office. That’s all borrowed money. It’s the main reason the province’s debt levels soared to unsustainable levels, resulting in three downgrades to Manitoba's credit rating. The provincial government is borrowing twice as much as it did 10 years ago to pay for new infrastructure, to cover its annual operating deficit and to refinance existing debt.

Even with the $45 million in Manitoba 150 “building projects,” infrastructure spending is well below what it was under the NDP.

So, even with the $45 million in Manitoba 150 "building projects," infrastructure spending is well below what it was under the NDP.

The upshot is, this has nothing to do with the province’s 150th birthday. It’s just a marketing exercise; a way of using existing spending to mark an anniversary. No doubt most Manitobans will be happy to have some of their roads and highways fixed. But it’s doubtful many will see a connection between improving gravel roads and upgrading intersections with the celebration of Manitoba’s entry into Confederation 150 years ago.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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