Omnibus budget bill gives province room to wriggle out of transit, infrastructure deals with Winnipeg

The Progressive Conservative government has tabled a new omnibus budget bill that provides Manitoba with room to wriggle out of transit and infrastructure funding deals with the City of Winnipeg.

PC government provides clarity Mayor Brian Bowman has been seeking since April on budget impact for Winnipeg

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman has been calling for the province to explain the impacts of its 2017-18 budget for weeks. A new omnibus budget bill tabled Thursday by the province provides some of that clarity. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The Progressive Conservative government has tabled a new omnibus budget bill that provides Manitoba with room to wriggle out of transit and infrastructure funding deals with the City of Winnipeg.

But it's unclear whether the province will use that measure to ratchet back those deals.

Bill 36, the Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act, was introduced Thursday and would rescind legislation obliging the province to cover half of Winnipeg Transit's annual tab.

It would also would end legislation requiring Manitoba to direct one percentage point of PST revenues to municipal infrastructure.

The latter move marks a major change to what was called the Building Manitoba Fund, a funding deal Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman heralded last year as a means of ensuring Winnipeg and other Manitoba municipalities have a stable source of revenue to pay for roadwork and other major infrastructure projects.

The funding deal will now be called the Strategic Municipal Infrastructure Fund instead.

The end of the 50-50 transit funding arrangement marks the end of an even longer-standing deal with Winnipeg. That move arrived the day before city council's public works committee is expected to publish a report outlining measures to improve security for Winnipeg Transit drivers.

Manitoba Indigenous and Municipal Relations Minister Eileen Clarke said the City of Winnipeg is aware of the financial pressures facing the province and assured the city it will receive the same overall level of funding it received last year.

"They were actually sort of relieved that they weren't cut, dramatically," Clarke said at the Legislative Building on Thursday afternoon. "To them to basically stay status quo for the ongoing year, 2017, was actually good news for them."

That provides some clarity for Bowman and other city officials, who have been clamouring for the province to explain the impacts of its 2017-18 budget for weeks.

The PC government repeatedly stated Winnipeg would receive the same overall funding it received in 2016, but did not clarify how the lack of additional funding would affect the transit funding deal, the Building Manitoba Fund or operating funding for the Winnipeg Police Service's helicopter.

Jonathan Hildebrand, Bowman's communications director, said the city is reviewing Bill 36 to determine its implications for the City of Winnipeg. He said the mayor likely will not comment until the review is complete.

NDP finance critic James Allum characterized Bill 36 as the province abandoning funding agreements with the city and other municipalities. He also accused the Tories of burying this news deep within the omnibus bill instead of making it clear on budget day.

"We would ask the finance minister to be much more transparent and clear for these issues for the people of Manitoba," he said.