Minister's letter on road funding leaves Winnipeg politicians unsatisfied
Wharton says transit funding could be considered roads funding, city says it's still owed $40M
The latest letter between Manitoba's municipal relations minister and the mayor of Winnipeg sparked smirks and a couple of jabs from the city's finance chair Thursday.
Coun. Scott Gillingham said Jeff Wharton's letter to Mayor Brian Bowman dated April 10 does not satisfy the city's request for a full accounting of why the province did not transfer $40 million to Winnipeg for road renewal last year.
"This letter indicates that the bus rapid transit — a $92-million-dollar payment — is now counted by the province as roads funding," Gillingham told reporters. "This comes as a surprise to me … I can't get in my half-ton and drive on the bus rapid transit."
Later on Thursday, Wharton argued bus rapid transit roads are still roads and funding for transit helps to preserve conventional roadways by removing buses off streets and highways, according to audio provided by his office to CBC News.
I can't get in my half-ton and drive on the bus rapid transit.- Coun . Scott Gillingham
The province and city remain in an open war of words over a $40-million pot of money Winnipeg politicians say the city is owed to fulfil a five-year roads plan, promised by the previous New Democrat government.
The Progressive Conservatives paid for the roads plan in years three and four of the program but did not cover the costs in year five, 2018. The provincial government argues it is under no legal obligation to do so.
Wharton's latest letter to Bowman strikes a different tone from his last note in March which accused Bowman of being "inaccurate" and "misleading."
The municipal relations minister says he is "pleased" to inform Bowman the province transferred a similar amount to the alleged outstanding balance — $37.9 million — to the city for roads April 1, 2019.
"Between this recent provincial [Accelerated Regional Street Renewal] payment and our confirmed 2019/2020 capital commitments, the City of Winnipeg is receiving as much as $148.5 million in road funding from our government (up to $49.9 million in ARSR funding, plus $98.6 million for the ongoing BRT 2 and Waverley Underpass projects)," Wharton writes.
"In addition, I was pleased to see the city is about to receive more than $40 million in unconditional federal gas tax revenues, which can also be used this calendar year on the City of Winnipeg's top priority, roads."
Letter changes nothing: mayor
Bowman was not available for an interview Thursday but said through a spokesperson Wharton's letter and the cheque for $37.9 million changes nothing.
"Minister Wharton's letter still does not provide an answer to Council's request for a detailed accounting of how the province feels they have fulfilled the $40 [million] hole left in last year's roads budget," said Bowman's office.
"The provision of contractually agreed upon funding as part of the Accelerated Regional Roads program does nothing to address the $40 [million] the province retroactively shorted the City of Winnipeg. The Mayor looks forward to seeing a response from the province that responds to Council's request."
The roads funding was approved by Winnipeg city council in September. It will see more than $300 million from all three levels of governments pay for road improvements in Winnipeg over five years.
Wharton's letter also offers to assist Bowman and his staff "with efforts to find efficiencies and budget savings."
Gillingham, chair of the finance committee, returned the same offer to Wharton.
"Respectfully, I welcome the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Wharton and assist him with his books as well," Gillingham said.
After consulting with city administration, Gillingham told reporters in an email later on Thursday there is some work on Pembina Highway connected to the second phase of the bus rapid transit project which could fall under transit funding.
"That does not take away the fact that this overall project has always been a transit project and not traditionally associated with the previous road commitments of the province," he wrote.
City council still has yet to decide where to spend the a $40-million influx of federal gas tax money. At executive policy committee, councillors supported the idea of spending the vast majority on residential road repairs with a small amount going toward safety improvements and active transportation.