Earth should be moving by February on the Freedom Road construction project, according to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister. Negotiations on who will pay what portion, however, are less clear.
The Progressive Conservative government faced a number of question in the Manitoba Legislature Monday about the status of the road to the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.
Pallister was firm on his government's commitment to build the road.
"I think the project will be underway in the next 60 to 90 days and I think it will be historic and our commitment remains to get this job done," Pallister told reporters.
NDP MLA Amanda Lathlin accused the government of delaying the project, saying residents of the isolated First Nation would have to use an ice road to access their community for another winter.
Pallister says planning and engineering for the road are well underway, but acknowledged the financing of the project was still the subject of negotiations between the province and the federal government. The deal was originally agreed to by all three levels of government, including the city of Winnipeg.
The reserve on the Manitoba-Ontario boundary was cut off a century ago during construction of an aqueduct which carries fresh water to Winnipeg.
Pallister says negotiations with the federal government are largely about the responsibility Ottawa has for First Nations.
"There are certainly no precedents for provincial governments, whether Ontario or Manitoba, engaging in building roads right on Indian reserves themselves. And those First Nations communities know that, and we know that and the federal government is coming to understand that," Pallister said.
The cost of the year-round road has risen since the announcement was made last year.
- Government officials knew $30M Shoal Lake road project could cost $52M when they announced it, documents show
Originally the three levels of government agreed to divide the cost of the project into thirds, but the city of Winnipeg's $10 contribution was based on the original estimate of $30 million.
City council has only given approval for that $10 million.
The total cost for the project has now risen considerably and the PC government is now negotiating with Ottawa on how to split the difference. Pallister accused the previous NDP government of writing "a blank cheque" for the project. He says they "made a promise without any pricing."
Pallister would say little about where the negotiations with the federal government were on cost and would not say what the final breakdown might look like.