June 16, 2019

Winnipeg
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Time to end the battle of the Brians

Editorial

OK, we get it.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman don’t get along. They don’t trust each other. They are constantly at loggerheads. They are, through their deeds and statements, making life hard for each other.

The question now is not whether the two most powerful Brians in the province will ever be buddies. It’s whether the two highest-ranking political leaders in Manitoba can set aside their personal distaste for one another and find solutions for the most common points of conflict — such as provincial funding to the city.

For months now, Mr. Bowman has complained about unexpected cutbacks in provincial funding. The province contributes more than $210 million annually for city operations and infrastructure. However, in recent years, the Pallister government has fundamentally altered the terms of the funding relationship. That has meant frozen funding in most areas, and less funding in some.

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OK, we get it.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman don’t get along. They don’t trust each other. They are constantly at loggerheads. They are, through their deeds and statements, making life hard for each other.

The question now is not whether the two most powerful Brians in the province will ever be buddies. It’s whether the two highest-ranking political leaders in Manitoba can set aside their personal distaste for one another and find solutions for the most common points of conflict — such as provincial funding to the city.

For months now, Mr. Bowman has complained about unexpected cutbacks in provincial funding

For months now, Mr. Bowman has complained about unexpected cutbacks in provincial funding. The province contributes more than $210 million annually for city operations and infrastructure. However, in recent years, the Pallister government has fundamentally altered the terms of the funding relationship. That has meant frozen funding in most areas, and less funding in some.

Mr. Pallister responded by arguing that Winnipeg is still being treated generously. And that if they are unhappy with frozen or reduced funding, they can look within — as the province is doing — to find savings and efficiencies to make ends meet.

Take away all of the rhetoric, and two points are patently clear: first, neither side is being completely frank; and second, this dispute is hurting the people of Winnipeg.

If there is only one taxpayer — and despite the hyperbole, it’s true — then both leaders owe it to Winnipeggers to find a way out of this gerbil wheel of conflict.

Part of the problem here is that the city and provincial governments are on different fiscal calendars. The province runs its year from April 1 to March 31 of the following year; the city budgets on a calendar-year basis. As a result, the province has been changing the terms of funding when it tables its own budget in the early spring of every year, three to four months after the city has set its budget.

Premier Brian Pallister, left, and Mayor Brian Bowman. (Wayne Glowacki / Free Press files)

Premier Brian Pallister, left, and Mayor Brian Bowman. (Wayne Glowacki / Free Press files)

Up until now, verbal commitments between high-ranking officials at the two levels of government have been used to bridge the gap between civic and provincial budgets.

That is clearly not working anymore.

Fortunately, there are examples that could point to a better way.

The federal government informs the provinces every December of the exact amounts of transfer payments heading to the provinces each year, a full three months before those provinces table budgets. And Mr. Pallister’s government is somehow able to publicize the details of public education each January, months before school divisions set their budgets and property taxes.

Mr. Pallister responded by arguing that Winnipeg is still being treated generously

Although both sides have an obligation to forge a better working relationship, only the province has the legal authority to solve this problem. There is absolutely no reason why a process similar to that used by Ottawa to notify provinces about transfer payments, or the one used by Manitoba to release school-division funding, could not be applied to municipalities.

But here’s the rub: to arrive at that better process, Mr. Pallister and Mr. Bowman must be willing to work together.

Just about everyone in Winnipeg knows the two Brians don’t get along. However, it’s important for both men to understand that even though we know this, we don’t care.

Settle your differences and solve this problem.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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