Manitoba adds $500M to budget for infrastructure projects to 'restart economy'
'Great big, long list' of 'shovel-worthy' projects to tackle, says Premier Brian Pallister
The Manitoba government has committed an additional $500 million for infrastructure projects that Premier Brian Pallister says will help restart the economy.
The stimulus funds are on top of the province's previously announced $3 billion for infrastructure over two years.
More details about specific projects will be provided in the coming weeks, Pallister said.
"Manitoba's construction industry is ready to ramp up their work and we have many important shovel-worthy projects throughout the province," he said.
The restart program will include work in the following fields:
- Water and sewage projects through the Municipal Water Services Board.
- Road and highway resurfacing and repairs.
- Bridge repairs.
- Municipal infrastructure priorities.
- Potential new cost-sharing construction projects with other levels of government if agreements can be reached.
"We have an infrastructure deficit in this country and Manitoba's no exception. We've got a great big, long list," Pallister said.
He said the new money will be funnelled toward "shovel-worthy" projects with a high return on investment.
Bowman backs treatment plant
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said the province doesn't have to look far for a deserving project.
"I can give you one that's shovel-ready, shovel-worthy and council-approved, and it's the North End sewage treatment plant," he said. "We've been waiting since last fall for the province to fully commit to supporting that project."
Construction and municipal leaders applauded the province's infrastructure boost.
"We think it's a very good and very welcome and very necessary first step in the road to recovery," said Chris Lorenc, head of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association.
He wants the federal government to partner on several construction projects, all while expediting the building of the Interlake flood channels, which still face regulatory hurdles.
Association of Manitoba Municipalities president Ralph Groening commended the announcement as well, especially the pandemic exacerbates the financial woes of municipalities.
"We make the point to the provincial government that we are limited in how we can access money," Groening said, referring mainly to property taxes.
"We cannot run deficits."
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, however, argued the province is shortchanging infrastructure funding.
In 2018, Winnipeg estimated it faced a $6.9-billion gap over 10 years between the money it needs for infrastructure and what it expects to get.
$200 for seniors shows 'respect'
Meanwhile, Pallister spent some time Thursday defending his earlier announcement that every Manitoba senior would get $200 to help with added costs arising from COVID-19. The program is anticipated to cost $45 million.
A report from Statistics Canada suggests seniors are the least financially vulnerable demographic group in the country.
Asked why the decision was made to give seniors cheques when, statistically speaking, they need it least, Pallister became indignant.
"Frankly, you're looking at this from a purely financial standpoint. What you're ignoring is the reality of the stress that's on people who are 1,000 times more likely to die if they're 75 [years old] with pre-symptoms … than a healthy 30-year-old," he said.
"For heaven's sake, we put out a program to give seniors $200 to show some appreciation and respect for them. Understand that's who built this province. Understand that these people deserve our respect and they are living with stress and consequentially, emotional disruption that very few people younger people may understand.
"It might just help them pay a few bills that they didn't think they were going to have, living on a fixed income."
Money for essential workers
Pallister was also asked about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Thursday announcement of a $4-billion deal with the provinces and territories to top up payments for low-wage essential workers.
The federal government will kick in $3 billion and the provinces will contribute the rest to boost the salaries of essential workers who make less than $2,500 a month. People who will benefit include employees at long-term care facilities, front-line workers in hospitals and people working in the food industry, Trudeau said.
Trudeau said all the provinces and territories have confirmed, or are in the process of confirming, plans to cost-share wage top-ups — but decisions about who qualifies will rest with the provinces and territories.
Asked about the announcement, Pallister said Manitoba will work out details over next few days and share them publicly next week.
"I'm very excited about this," he said.
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With files from Ian Froese