Hello and welcome to this month’s issue of Smart Biz!
Each year, the Province of Manitoba invites input into the preparation of their annual budget. In response to their invitation, I was happy to have the opportunity to outline three key priorities the City of Winnipeg would like to see addressed in the province’s 2018 budget. These priorities included rehabilitating our regional roads like Portage Avenue and Pembina Highway, investing in public transit, and committing to a long-term predictable infrastructure program.
A growing and thriving Winnipeg is essential to a growing and thriving Manitoba. Winnipeg continues to be the economic engine in Manitoba, and as we grow towards one million people we need to be planning today for a future that will create increased demand on current city infrastructure and services.
The Conference Board of Canada projects we will chart strong and steady increases in population over the next twenty-five years and with a population of one million around 2035, there will be much more demand for new infrastructure and expanded services.
It is in this context that I identified these three key priorities as part of the 2018 provincial budget:
- Endorse the City of Winnipeg’s accelerated regional roads proposal;
- Planning for the future
- Restore the 50/50 transit funding agreement; and
- Commit to a long-term, predictable, & growth oriented funding framework.
No city in Canada can succeed without strong provincial and federal partners. A decade of tax cuts and freezes has left Winnipeg with crumbling infrastructure and a current infrastructure deficit estimated to be $7 billion. While Council has been chipping away at the infrastructure deficit, we cannot do it alone. Provincial and federal support for Winnipeg is an essential part of helping rebuild our city after years of neglect.
Currently, there is a great opportunity for all three levels of government to partner in rehabilitating Winnipeg’s roads with no additional incremental costs to Winnipeg or Manitoba taxpayers. With millions of dollars in federal funding sitting in a bank account, the province could help access $182 million in federal funding to bolster the City’s efforts in rehabilitating our regional road network. All the province needs to do is simply endorse and submit our proposal to access this funding from the federal government.
I also expressed our disappointment with the provincial government’s unilateral elimination of the long-standing 50/50 transit funding agreement. The elimination of this city-provincial partnership has created a $10 million deficit in the transit operation budget for 2018.
As the City finalizes and approves its preliminary 2018 budget, we are grappling with ways to address the significant budget gap the provincial decision has caused and there is no doubt it will affect transit service.
We are, however, working on ways to mitigate the full impact to service as well as affordability that this provincial decision has had but something has to give in order for us to balance the budget.
As well, with the unilateral provincial decision to eliminate the Building Manitoba Fund, it has been challenging for the City of Winnipeg to meet its legislated requirements under The City of Winnipeg Charter Act to balance its budget and develop a five-year capital forecast.
In my submission to the province, I strongly urged the Province of Manitoba to use the opportunity in its 2018 budget to provide clarity on a long-term capital funding framework for Winnipeg because it is difficult to build an effective long term capital plan without it.
At the end of the day, there is only one taxpayer, and it is my hope that the 2018 provincial budget can help strengthen the partnership between City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba as we grow into the future.