Manitoba

Feds, Winnipeg play hot potato with sewage-treatment billions

Canada's infrastructure minister suggested the Trudeau government is not helping Winnipeg pay for billions worth of sewage-treatment upgrades because the city hasn't made its most expensive project a a federal funding priority.

Infrastructure Minister says Ottawa doesn't set priorities for cities; Mayor says Winnipeg doesn't qualify

Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi suggested Winnipeg has not made its multi-billion-dollar sewage-treatment upgrade a funding priority. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Canada's infrastructure minister suggested the Trudeau government is not helping Winnipeg pay for billions worth of sewage-treatment upgrades because the city hasn't made its most expensive project a federal funding priority.

Winnipeg is in the midst of spending between $2 billion and $4 billion over the course of three decades to upgrade three sewage-treatment plants and replace some its combined sewers with separate pipes to handle storm water drainage and sewage.

When the province ordered up these environmental improvements in 2003 to reduce the amount of nutrients flowing into Lake Winnipeg, all three levels of government were expected to share the tab. But that has not happened, requiring Winnipeg to borrow most of the money it needs to pay for this work and use water-and-sewer bills to cover the financing charges. 

On Tuesday, federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi suggested the city has not made sewage-treatment upgrades a priority.

"We don't select projects at the federal government. We support our local partners to build those projects or repair the existing infrastructure they have to repair. So all prioritization happens at the local level," Sohi told reporters at Old Market Square. 

"Any projects the local government prioritizes, we are very happy to support those projects."

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says the city's public service has found it challenging to to determine what federal funding program would allow sewage-treatment upgrades to qualify.
Winnipeg's mayor, however, said city administrators have not been able to identify any federal funding program that could help the city pay for its multi-billion-dollar sewage-treatment upgrades. 

"The public service has been looking for the right program, where we could qualify," Bowman said. "The challenge our public service has been having is to fit the criteria of the program."

Sohi was in Winnipeg to highlight federal spending on 11 Manitoba water-and-sewer projects, including two in Winnipeg, as well as five transportation projects in Winnipeg. All seven of the Winnipeg projects were approved by council in September.

Ottawa has not approved a separate Winnipeg request for $182 million in road-renewal funding. Bowman said the Pallister government has not signed off on this request even though the city is not asking the Pallister government to spend an extra penny on the plan.
Canada's infrastructure minister suggested the Trudeau government is not helping Winnipeg pay for billions worth of sewage-treatment upgrades because the city hasn't made its most expensive project a federal funding priority. 1:31