On the 12th day of the election campaign, all three major parties flaunted new promises: altering holiday shopping hours, adding personal care home beds, and preventing water pollution.
The Manitoba NDP promised to fund the provincial share of upgrades to Winnipeg’s north end sewage treatment plant, spending $500 million over 10 years, if elected to government Sept. 10.
The $1.8-billion project has been at a stalemate as the city tries to get provincial and federal buy-in. City council decided to complete the necessary upgrades in three stages, with construction slated to begin in 2021 and last four years.
Runoff from the north end plant has been the largest polluter connected to Lake Winnipeg, responsible for five per cent of the phosphorus present in the lake, a study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Lake Winnipeg Foundation found.
At a news conference at Louis Greenburgh Plaza overlooking the Red River on Scotia Street, NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the sewage plant upgrades are "long overdue."
"This is about more than just infrastructure. This is about our values as Manitobans," he said.
"The historic moment that we are in today calls upon all of us to have the courage to act... because it's time for us to stand together to protect our water, to affirm that water is life, and to all stand on the side of the environment."
Kinew also fielded questions about whether his party was copying a similar promise from the Liberals three weeks earlier.
The Grits vowed to spend $5 million on short-term upgrades to the sewage treatment plant and $500 million on "Save Lake Winnipeg" bonds dedicated to building infrastructure projects that would preserve the lake and provincial wetlands, if elected.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont later called Kinew's announcement "very familiar."
"What’s the saying? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but plagiarism will get you kicked out of school — and it probably should," he said.
There is a major difference between the two, Kinew said.
"Our commitment is fully costed and would be executed immediately upon taking office because we're paying for it out of infrastructure funding at the provincial level," the NDP leader said.
"The other parties have empty promises that are financed by elaborate bonds that they hope to float on the market at some point in the future. We can't put protecting our lake on a conditional sale of some imaginary financial instrument. We have to act now."
Kevin Engstrom, a Tory spokesman, responded by calling the NDP announcement "hypocrisy," noting it's the fourth time the party has pledged to improve the north end plant, but never did so while in government. (The Tories were voted into power in 2016, after almost 17 years of NDP rule.)
City of Winnipeg officials applauded Kinew’s funding announcement, though Coun. Cindy Gilroy, chairwoman of council’s environment committee, pointed out the complete upgrade can only be accomplished with support from all three levels of government.
"I think this is great news, if the NDP were willing to fund their portion if they formed government," Gilroy said. "The building of the north end treatment plant is essential in dealing with phosphorus and sewage outflows that are having an impact on our rivers and especially Lake Winnipeg."
A spokesman for Mayor Brian Bowman said he supports any commitment "to equally fund the costs of meeting provincial licensing requirements."
Meanwhile, in the city’s northwest, the Liberals made an announcement targeted at the aging population Friday: to establish a non-partisan seniors advocate and invest in 1,200 affordable units for seniors — including, but not limited to, personal care-home beds.
Alongside MLA Cindy Lamoureux, the Liberals' former seniors critic, Lamont announced the party would spend $160 million to build a variety of seniors' units across the province by 2024.
"Personal care homes are not the only answer," said Lamoureux, a candidate in Tyndall Park. "We also need to be talking about supportive housing, retirement homes, 55-plus homes and active living."
Lamont said a Liberal government would also increase home-care funding to $38 million per year by the end of 2020. As well, the party promised to invest $5 million annually into recreational programming for seniors.
— with files from Aldo Santin
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.