Manitoba’s Liberals unrolled a blueprint for a major provincial infrastructure plan Sunday, promising to spend $16 billion over 10 years on a variety of infrastructure projects should they form government following September’s provincial election.
Liberal leader and St. Boniface candidate Dougald Lamont blamed successive Progressive Conservative and NDP governments for what he described as a provincial infrastructure deficit totalling $15 billion.
"Now this is all of a very serious concern, because the Conference Board of Canada is projecting that Manitoba will have the worst growth in decades this year and the next," Lamont said during a Sunday morning press conference at the Main Street campaign office of St. Johns Liberal candidate Eddie Calisto-Tavares.
"And the reality is, the Pallister government’s austerity policies have been choking off economic growth in Manitoba."
In contrast, Lamont said a Liberal government in Manitoba would "invest in infrastructure that can help transform our economy, because good infrastructure lowers costs by helping everyone reduce waste."
Lamont claimed the Liberals’ 10-year, $16-billion infrastructure plan would return nearly $21 billion to the province’s economy over its lifespan.
The plan would see investments in key economic infrastructure like roads and bridges, including winter roads and ice roads in northern Manitoba and increased support for the CentrePort inland port. Lamont said a Manitoba Liberal government would also focus on accessible infrastructure, including new guidelines for accessibility considerations in new construction and accessibility upgrades to existing schools and public buildings, with the province covering the entire cost of renovations to primary schools.
The Liberals also pledged to make infrastructure projects more environmentally friendly by "designing and building infrastructure that makes it fun and easy to get where you need to without a car." Recreation centres would also be upgraded with an eye to improving accessibility, Lamont said.
Lastly, Lamont said a Liberal government would spend about $3 million to study whether the freight railway tracks that run through Winnipeg could be relocated. Building around Winnipeg’s existing rail lines is increasing the cost of other infrastructure projects in the city, he said.
"The other issue, of course, is that there are hundreds of (rail) cars carrying hazardous materials through Winnipeg’s residential neighbourhoods on a daily basis," Lamont said.
Much of the $16 billion of spending proposed by the Liberals "already exists," Lamont told reporters.
"Sometimes we might issue bonds, but a lot of that is already there," he said, adding his party would release more details in an upcoming costed election platform.
"So there might be a period at the beginning where we’re borrowing, but we hope that it’ll be paid for largely by the revenues we have on hand."
Lamont’s political opponents derided the Liberal infrastructure plan.
"I think the Manitoba Liberals don’t really have much credibility in the promises they’re making in this campaign," Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said during his party’s Sunday press conference.
"Our plan on infrastructure would create tens of thousands of new jobs over a term," Kinew added.
"We know that the Liberals’ plan for Manitobans is to (implement) higher taxes, and by making announcements such as that, it just shows that their plan to raise taxes on all Manitobans is really the only plan they have," Rochelle Squires, Progressive Conservative candidate for Riel said, during a PC press conference.
Lamont used a wintry simile to explain to reporters why he believes in spending on infrastructure spending.
"People often say government should work like a household," he said.
"Let’s say you live in a house that’s super drafty, and you’re paying a lot for heat — so, you have two options, one is you can just turn down your heat and live in the cold all the time and try to save money that way. The other is, you could borrow a little bit of money and insulate your house. That way you could stay warm, and you would save money for the rest of your life.
"So, what we want to do is make sure that Manitobans stay warm and save money for the rest of their lives. While I think the Pallister government is willing to let people freeze in the dark."
Solomon Israel is a full-time reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and for two years, the lead writer for Free Press cannabis news site, The Leaf News. He continues to provide coverage of the cannabis beat while covering business in the city and province.