Manitoba

'The north is truly hurting': Thompson mayor frustrated he can't get meeting with premier

Dennis Fenske says he and his council have been trying to arrange a sit-down the Brian Pallister for months.

Dennis Fenske says city's economic crisis warrants face time with Brian Pallister

Vale's nickel mine in Thompson. The northern Manitoba city will lose almost half of its mining jobs this year as Vale Manitoba Operations cuts 700 positions. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC)

The mayor of Thompson says he's frustrated that he can't get a meeting with the premier despite the grave economic challenges his community is facing.

Dennis Fenske says he and his council have been trying to arrange a sit down Premier Brian Pallister for months.

They put in a request to meet with Pallister when the premier was in Thompson last week for an announcement that Bell MTS would be awarded the contract to connect first responders across the province.

But they were told the premier's schedule was too tight to fit them in. A couple councillors resorted to approaching Pallister after the announcement, Fenske says.

"Given the times that Thompson and the region is facing, it warranted a face-to-face, in-person meeting with the premier and ministers while they were in Thompson," he said.

Minister rebuffs comments 

A spokesperson for Pallister said the premier was not available for an interview to respond to Fenske's comments Wednesday.

However, Blaine Pedersen, minister of growth, enterprise and trade, says he's met with Fenske at least four times and that there have been several other meetings with senior staff and other cabinet ministers. 

"So for him to say he can't get a meeting is bizarre to say the least," Pedersen said, adding that the premier is "well aware" of the challenges facing Thompson. 

"That's what our job is as ministers … to keep the premier informed of our departments and what's going on in the province," he said 

Huge job losses this year 

Thompson will lose almost half of its mining jobs this year as Vale Manitoba Operations cuts 700 positions. The mining company is also decreasing its voluntary tax contributions to the city.

The city has been at odds with the province over the use of funds from the Mining Community Reserve Fund, which was designed to help mining communities cope with an economic crisis.

Fenske wants to use $3 million from the fund to offset losses to city revenues, but the province has refused, arguing they can't take that much money out of the fund due to existing legislation.

Fenske says that it's been normal to not get much face time with previous premiers.

But  Thompson is currently facing an unprecedented situation that should warrant a meeting with the premier to talk about the bigger picture, he said.

"The north is truly hurting, and we need some action done and not just some programs that sound nice," he said.  

"We need some specific direction and funding put into northern Manitoba to ensure the sustainability of not only Thompson but all of northern Manitoba."

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