A month later, Winnipeg still doesn't know implications of Manitoba budget

Nearly a month after the province tabled its budget for the next year, the City of Winnipeg is still trying to figure out what it means.

City also seeking clarification from Pallister government on sewage-treatment upgrades

City officials say they're still seeking clarification from the province about the provincial budget. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Nearly a month after the Manitoba government tabled its budget for the next year, the City of Winnipeg is still trying to figure out what it means.

City council's finance committee was told Thursday that city officials are still talking to their provincial counterparts about the 2017-18 Manitoba budget in an effort to determine how program and capital funding will be affected.

On budget day in April, Finance Minister Cameron Friesen tabled a budget that reduced provincial spending on Manitoba municipalities from $365 million to $360 million. At the time, Mayor Brian Bowman said he had no indication how, or even if, that will affect Winnipeg.

Further clarification has been slow to arrive. This led council finance chair Scott Gillingham (St. James-Brooklands-Weston) to ask Winnipeg chief financial officer Mike Ruta what he's learned from provincial finance officials.

"My question is simply whether there are changes to the funding level or the funding model. It's important we know that," Gillingham said.

"As chair of finance, I certainly need clarity and I want clarity from the province as soon as possible," he added. "We're already looking ahead at the 2018 budget, so if there are any changes to the funding level or the funding model — we don't know that yet — those will have affects on 2018."

Gillingham said he assumes the province has thought out the implications of its budget and could not say why they have not communicated with the city. 

Senior provincial officials have met twice with senior city officials since the budget was released and intend to hold more meetings, said Caitlin MacGregor, a spokesperson for the Pallister government.

She said the city has been provided with "stable funding" and noted Mayor Brian Bowman met in April with Indigenous and Municipal Affairs Minister Eileen Clarke about the budget.

Gillingham also asked finance officials for an update on talks with the province regarding nutrient removal at the North End Water Pollution Control Centre, the largest of the city's three sewage-treatment plants, which is undergoing $795 million worth of upgrades.

Last June, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister hinted the province may allow the city to focus on removing phosphorus from sewage effluent instead of removing both phosphorus and nitrogen. A majority of freshwater scientists say it's crucial to limit phosphorus because blue-green algae in Lake Winnipeg can access nitrogen from the air.

Removing one nutrient instead of two will be less expensive for the city. Gillingham said Winnipeg chief administrative officer Doug McNeil remains in talks with the province about nutrient removal.

The province has asked the International Institute for Sustainable Development to put together a panel of water-quality experts to offer advice about nutrient removal, Sustainable Development Minister Cathy Cox said in a statement.

Those recommendations are expected this summer, she said.


Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.