Manitoba 150's celebratory spending 'invests in asphalt, but not people': Seiff

Happy birthday, Manitoba! Did you hear about that $50 million gift we’re getting for our 150th birthday? When you see how it’s being spent, it doesn’t look good for our future.

$50 million allotted for basic infrastructure and parties — what about the next 150 years?

The legislative building and the surrounding grounds are lit up with 300,000 bulbs to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Manitoba becoming a province. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Happy birthday, Manitoba! Did you hear about that $50 million gift we're getting for our 150th birthday? When you see how it's being spent, it doesn't look good for our future.

A Probe Research poll, commissioned by the Winnipeg Free Press, indicated that "41 per cent of respondents said the $50 million earmarked for building projects and celebrations is too rich for their blood."

When it's broken down, $5 million will be spent on celebrations, which get an additional $2 million boost from private donations.

The 2019 provincial budget designated $45 million for "special infrastructure projects." These include "capital projects in recognition of Manitoba's 150th anniversary, including funding for additional highway infrastructure projects," according to the budget.

I want to know where that $45 million in special project infrastructure grants is going. According to, "Pallister says projects considered for funding fit under categories such as supporting trade, commerce and tourism or improving public safety, roads and drainage."

In the Winnipeg Free Press on Jan. 2 , Tom Brodbeck wrote that the $45 million is being used for regular road and highway maintenance. It's a list of 17 projects. 

To quote Brodbeck, it doesn't affect the overall budget: "It's all necessary infrastructure, but it's not sexy stuff."

Celebrating values?

Joanne Seiff's family enjoyed the warming huts at the legislature grounds for Manitoba 150, but were disappointed in the disposable cups offered to attendees. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

The celebration cash also doesn't represent Manitoba's people and values. On Jan. 1, my family went to the Manitoba Legislature to see the Manitoba 150 celebration at the annual levee.

We enjoyed the costumes, the horses, sleigh and the outdoor warming huts. My kids loved the refreshments, the clown and a magician's fun tricks.

Yet, even my eight-year-old expressed disgust when we discovered that our plastic hot cider cups were single-use only. Manitoba has no way to recycle these. No one thought about all that pollution and waste.

My disappointed kid announced to frustrated adults nearby that they would have to "garbage it."

We heard the bagpipes and drums, but there wasn't a single Indigenous group providing songs or ceremony. Manitoba is 18 per cent Indigenous, according to the 2016 census.

We didn't include or acknowledge the ancestors who shared their land. We only heard music from European Christian traditions. This doesn't represent the current shape or future of our province.

On the legislature grounds, my children played, climbing into the Golden Bison hut. I appreciated the open invitation from the lieutenant governor. We celebrate together each year. 

I'd love it just as much if we made donations at the door to support the event costs. After all, this is a party we throw for ourselves, but not every Manitoban comes. Why should everyone foot the bill?

Issues many Manitobans care about

Manitoba 150 celebrations need to look beyond parties and roads, Joanne Seiff believes. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

I'm upset that our Manitoba 150 celebration dollars won't go toward funding improved access to health care, including mental health. We won't see a huge investment in support for addictions treatment or poverty reduction.

It won't build a greener infrastructure that moves toward environmental sustainability. The spending doesn't boost education, reconciliation efforts or support healing from the colonial narrative that shaped our province.

While these are issues many Manitobans care deeply about, our $45 million won't address any of these concerns.

Pallister's government enforced austerity instead. This requires nurses to work overtime through health care emergencies. It freezes the salaries of our civil servants, including cutting funding to our universities and their employees.

Meanwhile, we're throwing money at highway infrastructure. It misleads Manitobans to call it a part of the Manitoba 150 celebrations.

We're spending our budget money on an unsustainable future based on car culture. That doesn't invest in our province's green future. Should our celebration throw so much money at roads and tack on some parties?

Investing in asphalt, not people

Joanne Seiff's family enjoyed the celebration at the legislature, and she believes that Manitoba 150 needs to better represent the province's present and future. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

This reminds me of a friend who's an Anglican priest. She once interviewed at a church but felt she couldn't minister there. Her priorities didn't align with theirs.

When I asked why, she said something like, "they worship the building." In her view, the church is the people, and not an empty, well-appointed structure. She pastors the people, not the edifice.

This Manitoba 150 spending process invests in asphalt, but not people. It isn't inclusive.

If our Manitoba 150 celebrations are for investing in our next 150 years, we should rethink this narrative of "supporting trade, commerce and tourism or improving public safety, roads and drainage."

If the money is designated for infrastructure, it could still also invest in people. Let's build sober-living facilities. We can create improved and expanded sewage treatment, and improve our community centres, schools and playgrounds.

Improving public safety could help our poor or addicted Manitoban relatives find homes off the streets. Drainage could mean keeping our water clean through improved technology and greener management. 

Maybe special infrastructure projects could mean better 'trades' in pick-up hockey at our arenas. It could mean public safety like lead-free school fields, funded by the province.

Commit to Manitoba's present and future

My family had a great time at the annual party, but I regretted how "our" money was spent.

In the future, our gathering should reflect our population and its concerns. 

Include Indigenous voices in the celebration. Add diverse Manitoban voices from all the cultures who weren't represented by bagpipes or the Police Choir. Use reusable, compostable or recyclable cups to protect our environment.

The performers at this year's party did a marvellous job of representing our past. 

Now, let's commit to Manitoba's present population and future sustainability.

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