Editorial

There was a time — not that long ago, actually — when governments in this country would use signature infrastructure projects to help mark milestone anniversaries.

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This article was published 26/4/2019 (1120 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There was a time — not that long ago, actually — when governments in this country would use signature infrastructure projects to help mark milestone anniversaries.

Sports and recreation facilities, temples to arts and culture, elaborate green spaces or major capital investment projects such as bridges. The bigger the anniversary, the bigger the project.

Premier Brian Pallister and the provincial government released an underwhelming list of Manitoba 150 infrastructure projects. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Premier Brian Pallister and the provincial government released an underwhelming list of Manitoba 150 infrastructure projects. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

What, then, you might ask, is the Manitoba government planning for this province’s arguably significant 150th anniversary, which will be officially celebrated next year? Here’s a hint: concrete and asphalt play major roles.

On Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister unveiled a $45-million Manitoba 150 infrastructure initiative that "will leave a lasting legacy and help provide a brighter future for Manitobans to look forward to." The signature project, as highlighted in the premier’s speech and an accompanying news release, is a restoration of Memorial Park and the fountain directly north of the Manitoba Legislative Building. This will include upgrades to the mechanical, electrical and structural components of the park’s aged fountain, along with improvements to the park’s lighting and seating around the popular water feature.

It’s a small project — the province declined to say how much money it will spend on Memorial Park — but somewhat appropriate for sesquicentennial celebrations. Beyond that modest effort, however, it appears the premier has dedicated the rest of the Manitoba 150 infrastructure investment to repaving roads and shoring up highway shoulders.

The government released a list of Manitoba 150 infrastructure projects that includes 17 road rehabilitation or reconstruction projects across the province. From a brand-new concrete reconstruction of Memorial Boulevard between Broadway and York Avenue, to paving the access road to the Brandon Airport, to improving gravel roads in provincial parks, it appears the near-entirety of Mr. Pallister’s "celebratory" infrastructure investment will be spent on projects which the province was likely going to do anyway.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont nicely summed up the underwhelming and uninspired nature of the infrastructure projects. "Nothing brings people together like an intersection, Madam Speaker," Mr. Lamont said in the legislature. "And who doesn’t love drainage? I know it’s a passion for many Manitobans."

While there might be little passion in these projects, they might garner support among some Manitobans who applaud that Mr. Pallister is being pragmatic by not using infrastructure money on amenities or projects that fall outside the definition of "core" infrastructure. However, if he does not support the idea of hallmark celebratory infrastructure, he should not attempt to convince Manitobans that his collection of mundane infrastructure obligations translates into some sort of "lasting legacy" for the province.

The fountain in Memorial Park will be completely overhauled in honour of Manitoba's sesquicentennial. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

The fountain in Memorial Park will be completely overhauled in honour of Manitoba's sesquicentennial. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Repaving or reconstructing roads is necessary and noble work for a provincial government. But there is no legacy left behind by these projects, and no brighter future to be realized upon their completion. It is exactly the same kind of work the province will be funding this year, and the year after the 150th anniversary and, hopefully, every year after that.

Mr. Pallister has invested a lot of energy into promoting the Manitoba 150 celebrations. He’s been so distracted by next year’s events, in fact, that he has even suggested he may need to call an early election to avoid the prospect of a campaign disrupting the sesquicentennial revelry.

In the meantime, Mr. Pallister seems to have decided that instead of an elaborately constructed birthday cake with streamers and balloons — or some infrastructural equivalent that befits a milestone of this magnitude — the province’s birthday-spending menu will instead feature plain old meat and potatoes. Huzzah.