December 10, 2019

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Wishful thinking

Premier, mayor hoped budget would address specific needs, but were only partially answered

OTTAWA — Tuesday’s budget came up short for the leaders of Winnipeg and Manitoba. The Free Press recently asked the mayor and premier for their federal budget wish list, which the federal Liberals have only partially fulfilled.

✔ Wish fulfilled ✗ Not fulfilled ◯ Partial/unclear

 


Premier Brian Pallister

Asylum-seeker compensation (✗)

Tuesday’s budget gave no details on how Ottawa will compensate Manitoba for costs incurred due to border-crossing asylum seekers.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister

Ottawa provided Manitoba $3 million for housing costs last June; Pallister had requested a total of $7.9 million two months prior.

In February, the Free Press learned that estimate had ballooned to $17 million, despite the number of crossers in Manitoba cresting two years ago. That’s because many awaiting refugee hearings are incurring welfare, education and legal costs.

Ottawa earmarked in January $100 million for impacted provinces but still hasn't said how much Manitoba will get.

Health-care cash (✗)

Pallister’s office said he wants "sustainable and predictable federal support for health care," which is a polite way of asking Ottawa to reverse its 2017 decision to curtail billions of federal dollars.

The Liberals have upheld a Harper-government cut to health-care transfers, halving their annual rise to three per cent until 2022. Pallister has called that "a dangerous deal" given an aging population.

While Tuesday's budget outlines spending for issues like dementia and organ donations, there was no change to the health transfer.

Remove internal trade barriers (✔)

One of Pallister’s four budget requests was "action to eliminate internal trade barriers that fall under federal jurisdiction."

Tuesday's budget outlined an annual $3.1 million for the federal Treasury Board to oversee "regulatory co-operation priorities" involving both provincial and international rules — though that cash only starts to flow a year from now.

Last spring, the premier started pushing Ottawa and the provinces to harmonize rules around everything from First Aid kits to alcohol classifications. No specific measures were mentioned in Tuesday's budget.

Clarity for pipelines, flood channels (✗)

Tuesday’s budget had nothing to say about the proposed overhaul of major infrastructure and energy projects.

The Liberals tabled Bill C-69 in an effort to add clarity and speed to how pipelines and hydro projects are assessed. Manitoba’s senators have warned it might have the opposite effect. Pallister worries the bill could delay the construction of Interlake flood-outlet channels and impede new hydro-transmission lines.

The budget did not touch on the bill, though it did increase spending on disaster prevention and relief.


Mayor Brian Bowman

Keep existing pledges (✔)

The mayor’s first listed wish was that Ottawa "maintain existing funding commitments for existing capital commitments."

It appears there were no surprises on that front, with Ottawa instead doubling down on infrastructure cash in cities, amid difficulties in getting projects underway.

Mayor Brian Bowman

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Mayor Brian Bowman

On Tuesday, the Liberals committed to a one-time doubling of revenues from the federal gas tax, a levy collected at the gas pumps that is remitted to provinces and municipalities. This extra $2.2 billion is supposed to specifically address municipal priorities.

Direct transit cash (◯)

Bowman was hoping Ottawa would "cash flow public-transit capital support directly to municipalities," breaking with the tradition of linking support for transit with provincial funding.

While Trudeau was in Winnipeg last month to announce such a project at the Fort Rouge bus garage, Tuesday budget did not indicate the Liberals envision making these bilateral agreements a regular thing. However, the gas tax top-up may help fund transit.

City-specific meth, pot money (✗)

Two of Bowman’s requests were for a cut of revenues from the sin tax on legalized cannabis, as well as from federal allocations meant to beat back the meth and opioid crises.

While Ottawa has encouraged provinces to share one-third of their revenues from legalized cannabis, it never prescribed such a quota. Meanwhile, Manitoba is the sole jurisdiction that didn't join a taxation agreement with Ottawa, giving the Liberals zero leverage over how the province uses its excise tax.

This month's provincial budget included almost nothing on expected cannabis revenues, and the premier has told municipalities not to expect any either.

Meanwhile, the federal budget outlined new cash for the opioid crisis, but did not top up an existing federal fund for meth treatment, which the Pallister government helps administer.

A cut of the carbon tax (✗)

Bowman wanted Ottawa to "explicitly name all municipalities as recipients for the fuel-charge revenues as rebates from the federal carbon tax."

Tuesday’s budget did not take that step; municipalities, businesses and largely provincial coffers will be the recipients of carbon-tax revenues collected in Manitoba.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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