Manitoba agrees to send Winnipeg's funding ask for North End sewage plant upgrades, transit plan to feds

Manitoba will forward the City of Winnipeg's applications for federal funding for the second phase of its North End sewage treatment plant and its transit master plan to Ottawa, the premier and mayor said Wednesday.

Request still needs to be reviewed by federal government, Mayor Brian Bowman says

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson made the joint announcement at a news conference at city hall on Wednesday afternoon. (Tyson Koschik/CBC and Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The province of Manitoba has agreed to forward the City of Winnipeg's application for federal funding on two key projects, the premier and mayor said at a news conference on Wednesday.

That includes the second phase of upgrades to Winnipeg's North End sewage treatment plant, which involves the construction of a $552-million facility to process biosolids — a sludgy byproduct of the initial treatment of solid human waste.

A funding request for the city's master plan to overhaul Winnipeg Transit with a series of capital projects estimated to cost $538.9 million will also be passed on to Ottawa, Premier Heather Stefanson and Mayor Brian Bowman announced at Winnipeg's city hall.

The transit projects include a bus radio and intelligent transportation systems project, the replacement of the North End garage and a transition to zero-emission buses. 

The preliminary design of rapid transit downtown corridors, primary transit network infrastructure and wheelchair securement retrofitting are also part of that request for money.

A proposed new transit bridge over Queen Elizabeth Way, connecting the CN Highline to the existing Southwest Transitway, is part of the city's transit master plan. (Transportation Master Plan)

The funding the city is applying for comes from the federal government's Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. Because federal funding can't flow directly to a municipality, the province needed to agree to advance Winnipeg's application for cash to Ottawa.

Request was delayed

The city has been undertaking a massive upgrade of its sewage treatment system to meet the requirements of its licence under the province's Environment Act and reduce the outflow of nutrients into Lake Winnipeg.

Bowman said the work has taken too long.

"I think everybody that cares about the health of our rivers and lakes would have liked to have seen much of this dealt with by previous administrations, both here at the city and at the provincial level, of different political stripes," he said.

"Previous mayors and council, in my view, didn't move as quick as I would've liked."

The second phase of upgrades to the North End plant is just part of a multi-phase series of critical upgrades to the pollution control centre, which the city estimates will cost $1.8 billion in total.

Winnipeg's North End sewage treatment plant needs upgrades that the city estimates will cost $1.8 billion in total. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The request for federal funding was held up earlier this year, when the province asked the city to explore using a public-private partnership (P3) model to expand and operate the plant instead of forwarding Winnipeg's request for funding.

Moira Geer, director of the city's water and waste department, said at the time that using that type of model for Winnipeg's largest and oldest sewage treatment plant would effectively take control of the entire system out of the city's hands.

That's because the city's treatment plants work in tandem and any public-private partnership could run as long as 30 years, Geer said.

On Wednesday, Stefanson and Bowman said discussions on that topic will continue, but neither saw any reason to delay the request to the federal government.

City council's executive policy committee had already made a motion to call on the province to immediately submit the city's funding request to Ottawa — which Wednesday's announcement accomplishes, Bowman said.

"It's going to make for less fireworks on the floor of council tomorrow, which is a good thing in politics," he said.

"We're actually being able to demonstrate that we can work together."

Meanwhile, a public-private partnership market sounding report the province requested is now complete and will be presented to city council on Thursday, Bowman said.

The funding request will still need to be reviewed by the federal government after it's officially submitted, but the update is still a cause for celebration, he said.

"To have these two critical infrastructure projects move forward in such a short period of time is a credit to [Stefanson] and her leadership," Bowman said alongside the new premier, who was sworn in about three weeks ago.

It was a kind of joint news conference that both leaders suggested would have been uncommon under Stefanson's predecessor, Brian Pallister.

"Manitobans rightly expect the leaders of the province and the largest community to stand together to solve problems and build a place for all of us to be proud of," Stefanson said.

"We want to make sure that we move forward together and send a signal to the federal government that these issues are of great importance, not just to the city of Winnipeg but to all Manitobans."

NDP raises privatization concern

Manitoba's Official Opposition took issue with the announcement, saying it leaves the door open for privatizing water services, a water rate hike and sending jobs out of province.

"Premier Stefanson refused to rule out a private model today, proving she isn't that different from Brian Pallister after all," NDP environment critic Lisa Naylor said in a news release.

Stefanson needs to give Winnipeg workers an answer on whether she "will she send their jobs out of province" or "fight for working families," Naylor's statement said.

Stefanson said those conversations are still ongoing.


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