The year ahead for Manitoba: 20 things to watch for in 2020
Will the budget balance early? Can the Bombers repeat? Here are questions that should be answered this year.
Manitoba ended 2019 with a nearly-balanced provincial budget, a Nobel Prize in the hands of a former Winnipegger and a Canadian Football League team still basking in the glow of a Grey Cup victory.
The province also ended the year reeling from violent crime in its capital, the worst agricultural season in decades and an economy that continues to underperform.
A new year often arrives with optimism as well as uncertainty. Anyone who claims they can predict the future is either arrogant, a charlatan or both.
Here are 20 questions that ought to be answered in 2020:
1. Will there be a river trail?
Rapidly dropping river levels and irregular ice prevented The Forks from carving out a skating trail late in 2019, but the Red River is now receding very slowly, if at all. While a full-length trail is extremely unlikely this winter, The Forks is still pondering the possibility of preparing a shorter one.
2. Will there be a spring flood?
Right now, two out of five conditions are in place for a spring 2020 flood. Soil moisture was high at freeze up and rivers and streams were also running high. But it's still to soon to make a definitive forecast, despite the heavy snowpack south of the border.
3. Will the Inuit Art Centre increase tourism?
The Winnipeg Art Gallery's $65-million Inuit Art Centre, under construction on the south side of the WAG, is slated to open this fall. Tourism authorities have high hopes for its role in drawing visitors, especially as part of an ensemble of city attractions that also includes Assiniboine Park Zoo, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and The Forks.
4. Will ordinary people embrace Manitoba 150?
Premier Brian Pallister claimed he called an early election in 2019 to avoid diminishing the province's 150th birthday celebration. Events are planned through 2020 following a launch in December. Will Manitobans notice, never mind attend?
5. Will the province balance the budget?
According to Manitoba's auditor general, the provincial books would be balanced right now if the PC government didn't exclude the Workers Compensation Board and an agricultural reserve. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of additional federal transfer payments will also make it easier for the province to slay the deficit in 2020. But since Finance Minister Scott Fielding has declared 2022 the balanced-budget target, all bets are off.
6. What will the education review recommend?
In 2019, the province started an education review that may see the end of a Canadian anomaly: The ability for school boards to levy their own taxes. The government has already promised to eliminate school taxes over time. The question is whether school boards themselves will be eliminated, or at the very least amalgamated.
7. What happens with the next phase of health-care reform?
The first phase of Manitoba's health-care restructuring remains on hold while health administrators work out the kinks of emergency-ward amalgamations. At some point, the province is expected to announce plans for rural Manitoban hospitals as well. This may not go over well with the PC's rural base.
8. Do Wab Kinew and Dougald Lamont get to stick around?
Manitoba's NDP and Liberal leaders both face leadership reviews this year. Under Kinew, the NDP increased its seat count in the 2019 election. Lamont lost ground for the Liberals but did not embarass himself. It's unlikely either will be punted.
9. Will genuine progress be made on Lake Manitoba flood relief?
The ongoing federal-provincial fight over Indigenous community consultation has strained relations between Pallister and Justin Trudeau's Liberal government. A half-billion-dollar project lies in balance.
10. Will Winnipeg swing the budget axe?
The city's new budget process allowed senior city officials to scare the heck out of Winnipeggers with proposed service cuts that were only floated behind the scenes in previous years. Expect a mediocre budget, not a disastrous one.
11. Will Winnipeggers embrace the Southwest Transitway?
After 44 years of deliberation and construction — that is not a typo — the entire Southwest Transitway, from downtown to the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus, is slated to open in May. City bus service to southwest Winnipeg will also change, with frequent service along the transitway spine and feeder routes running off it. How well this works may determine the future of transit.
12. Is the East Transitway still in Winnipeg's plans?
Winnipeg is still studying where a proposed bus corridor between downtown and Transcona will go. A preferred route is supposed to be unveiled in 2020 — along with some sense of whether the city will ever build a second transitway. Mayor Brian Bowman promised to complete six bus corridors by 2030, but there is no money set aside for any of them.
13. Will Bowman get his way on police pensions?
Winnipeg wants to stop factoring overtime into police pensions. The police union argues this should be hammered out as part of contract talks. A decision should arrive in 2020.
14. Are Winnipeg's growth fees legal?
In 2017, Winnipeg started applying what it calls impact fees on developments at the fringes of the city. Developers immediately filed a legal challenge. The matter should be settled this year, meaning Winnipeg will either return tens of millions of dollars to developers — or spend this money on infrastructure.
15. Will Dustin Byfuglien return to the ice?
As 2019 comes to a close, defenceman Dustin Byfuglien — a difference-maker on the ice and a fan favourite — remains suspended from the Winnipeg Jets and is recovering from surgery. It's unclear whether he will heal in time to play this season and whether he wants to return, given the dispute between him and the club.
16. Will the Winnipeg Jets make the playoffs?
The Winnipeg Jets end the year with a winning record, albeit mainly thanks to some fantastic work by goalie Connor Hellebuyck earlier in the season. The team's schedule for the remainder of the 2019-20 season is among the toughest in the NHL. If the Jets don't improve, they'll have a tough time making the Stanley Cup playoffs.
17. Can the Winnipeg Blue Bombers repeat?
After ending a 29-year Grey Cup drought in 2019, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers face much less pressure this year. While key members of the championship team are bound to depart, enough of a core remains to make Winnipeg a contender for a second Cup in as many years.
18. Who starts at quarterback?
Much of Winnipeg's hopes depend on who the club re-signs at its most important position. Zach Collaros took the Bombers to the Grey Cup but may command too much money to re-sign. Matt Nichols did everything the Bombers asked of him before and after he was injured, but is now 32 years old. Chris Streveler is a phenomenal rusher but still needs to work on his passing. It is very likely only two of three will return, at most.
19. Is there a better part of a Valour?
Winnipeg soccer fans were thrilled to see Valour FC begin play in 2019. They were less thrilled with the way the club performed on the pitch. A few more wins in the sophomore season would go a long way.
20. Can Winnipeg turn the corner on despair?
This is the big question. The city ended 2019 with a record homicide tally, too much violent crime in general, a health-care system struggling to deal with meth addictions and a deep socio-economic divide. How Winnipeg addresses all this not just this year, but throughout the 2020s, will go a long way in determining what sort of city it will be.
And on that cheery note, happy new year.
With files from Ian Froese and Sean Kavanagh