Winnipeg councillor suggests 3rd-party intervention to solve city-province funding fight

A Winnipeg councillor on the city's finance committee has suggested Manitoba's auditor general or ombudsman may have to step in to help solve an ongoing dispute between the city and the provincial government over road renewal funding.

'I do not have clarity. I do not have a full picture' on provincial funding promises, says Coun. Shawn Nason

Frustrated with a lack of answers on the ongoing road renewal funding dispute between the city and the provincial government, Transcona Coun. Shawn Nason has suggested Manitoba's auditor general may need to step in to help resolve the issue. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

As the political battle over Winnipeg's road repair funding continues, one city councillor is looking for help.

During a meeting of the city's finance committee on Wednesday, Transcona Coun. Shawn Nason floated the idea of engaging Manitoba's auditor general or the provincial ombudsman to help resolve the dispute between Winnipeg and the Progressive Conservative provincial government.

"It seems like the two sides are not able to work it out between themselves," Nason told reporters after the meeting.

"Maybe it's the time for an independent third party to look at ways to move forward, and you come to an agreement before you kick those shovels in the ground."

Mayor Brian Bowman and provincial Finance Minister Scott Fielding have been trading blows over $40 million in promised funding for road work the city had budgeted for last year, but which it says the province has not yet delivered.

The dispute continued into this fiscal year, with the city cutting back dramatically on road spending in the budget it released last week.

The city made its budget calculations for the 2018 budget based on a five-year funding deal with the province that had entered its final year.

Nason, who was elected in last fall's civic election, says even though he sits on the finance committee at city hall, he can't be sure what the province promised and what has been delivered.

"I do not have clarity. I do not have a full picture," Nason said. The rookie councillor says he has not seen the full contractual agreement between the province and city that laid out a five-year, $250-million dollar roads agreement.

It's those documents the city relied upon last year when it set its 2018 budget and paid out money to contractors to complete the work.

'Met our obligations': finance minister

Talking to reporters on Tuesday, Fielding said his government was satisfied it had met the terms of the deal it had with Winnipeg, and the deal had been made clear to the city.

"We've met our financial obligations to the city in terms of the money that has been identified, to be frank, on the clarity front," Fielding said.

Councillors were updated at Wednesday's city finance meeting on infrastructure funding from the province. The city's chief financial officer, Mike Ruta, reiterated that there was indeed a shortfall of $40 million based on agreements with the province.

Ruta also told councillors the province was behind on payments for cost-shares on other projects going back to 2018.

City finance chair Scott Gillingham, left, says the public expects government to honour signed agreements but isn't sure of need for third party help to solve a fight with the province. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

Finance chair Coun. Scott Gillingham was cautious about agreeing to Nason's suggestion a third party step in and settle the disputes.

"I don't know the answer to that. I know ultimately this comes down to the relationship between the province of Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg," Gillingham said.

Gillingham said no matter what, the city and province have to continue to work on their relationship since it doesn't end — though he did add that "we have to trust the agreements that have been signed."

Couns. Lukes, Klein open to idea

Kevin Klein, the councillor for Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood, and Janice Lukes, who represents Waverley West, held a brief news conference Wednesday decrying the lack of detail, discussion and deliberation in the city's budget, tabled last week.

Couns. Janice Lukes and Kevin Klein say they don't know who's telling the truth on funding dispute. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

Both councillors were asked if they would support Nason's idea of third-party intervention.

Lukes said she was open to it and told reporters she had "no idea" who was telling the truth in the funding dispute.

Klein said it was time for both sides to step up to settle the dispute.

"Let's settle this right now. Put the document on the table. First one to drop the paper wins," Klein said.

All eyes at city hall are now on the Manitoba Legislature, as the PC government will table its own budget Thursday. 


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