Manitoba

Is Winnipeg the 'most generously funded' major city? No. Here's how it breaks down

Social media messaging by Manitoba's finance minister asserting Winnipeg is "the most generously funded major city in Canada" turns out to be wrong.

Finance minister’s tweet about provincial funding levels for Winnipeg misleading, CBC review finds

Manitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding, right, has been critical of Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman's handling of city finances. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Social media messaging by Manitoba's finance minister has asserted Winnipeg is "the most generously funded major city in Canada."

That, it turns out, is wrong.

In the lead-up to Friday's release of the City of Winnipeg 2019 budget, Manitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding has taken to social media on more than one occasion to goad city council over disagreements about provincial funding levels and accusations of wastefulness at city hall.

On Wednesday, Fielding — himself a former Winnipeg city councillor — tweeted that "Winnipeg remains the most generously funded major municipality in Canada. It doesn't have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem."

To support that claim, the minister attached an image that relies on the term "unconditional grant funding" and shows the amount of that funding received by a select few Canadian cities.

The image provides no source for this information and provides a chart that is out of proportion, giving an incorrect perception of scale between cities.

A spokesperson said the province is working to provide CBC with the source material to back up the unverified figures on unconditional provincial grants contained in the tweet.

Unconditional grant funding is defined as funds that can be spent at the city's discretion, as opposed to money that can only be spent for a specific purpose.

Winnipeg near bottom of list for per-capita funding

CBC News reviewed the audited financial statements going back to 2010 for Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon and Montreal to find out the total dollar amount each city received from its respective provincial governments — including both operational and capital funding.

Annual reports for cities such as Quebec City, Vancouver and Halifax did not break down the government funding sources and were therefore excluded.

Using the same per-capita metric as Minister Fielding used in his tweet yields quite a different story: Winnipeg ranks near the very bottom among the cities reviewed.

The analysis shows that since 2014, Winnipeg's per capita dollars have either been in decline or levelled off, while most other cities are generally seeing an increase in provincial dollars.

In 2017, Winnipeg received $397 per resident from the province, while Calgary got $589 and Montreal $757 per head from their provincial governments.

It's worth noting that while funding for Winnipeg's operations has been steadily increasing (a 2.1 per cent increase in 2017), the city has grown by over 50,000 residents over the last five years.

In addition, capital funding for major projects has been either in decline or stagnating since 2015.

Province defends numbers as 'more stable and comparable'

CBC News asked why the minister focuses publicly on unconditional grant funding, rather than total funding for Winnipeg.

"Overall funding would include funding for capital/infrastructure, which ebbs and flows in each province and city based on the scope of significant capital projects undertaken and timing of the projects coming to completion," said a provincial spokesperson.

"Unconditional operating funding is more stable and comparable — it includes funding for regular city operations, per capita — with no strings attached and complete fair say."

The minister and his office did not directly respond to a question about whether the tweet accurately represents the current state of provincial funding to the city.

However, a spokesperson did say that the unconditional funding provides Winnipeg with "unprecedented flexibility to direct funding toward its priorities to meet the needs of its citizens."

"It should be noted that funding for other cities can vary significantly year over year, whereas funding for Winnipeg provides greater consistency to assist the city in budgeting and meeting the needs of its citizens," the spokesperson said.

Brian Bowman's communications director, Jonathan Hildebrand, says the mayor understands the fiscal challenges facing the province and is accepting to work within these constraints.

"The City of Winnipeg continues to seek greater clarity and certainty with respect to provincial capital funding both for last year's budget as well as for the 2019 budget scheduled to be tabled [Friday] at a special meeting of executive policy committee," he said.

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