Each year, the AMM hosts a “Lobby Day” which includes a face-to-face meeting with the Progressive Conservative caucus followed by a similar meeting with the NDP caucus. The purpose of Lobby Day is to highlight the most critical municipal issues of the day and to probe both the government and the official opposition on their views on these issues. The following is this year’s Lobby Day presentation to both parties.
Municipalities today face growing responsibilities and high expectations.
Our mayors, reeves and councillors take their jobs seriously, and they are elected by their citizens to make decisions in the best interests of their communities.
It is very important to the AMM to have a respectful working relationship with all provincially elected representatives.
The purpose of Lobby Day is to highlight the most critical municipal issues of the day and to probe both the government and the official opposition on their views on these issues.
Currently, there are two pressing issues causing a great deal of distress for Manitoba municipalities. First is the government’s amalgamation initiative.
The Province of Manitoba announced in the throne speech last November its intention to amalgamate municipalities with a population under 1,000 by the next municipal election in 2014.
Contrary to comments made in the legislature and in the throne speech, many municipalities already work together to meet modern challenges such as effective planning and emergency preparedness.
A large number of municipalities have service sharing agreements with neighbours to improve their efficiency.
Municipalities are an independent order of government, and as such amalgamations should not be imposed by the Province of Manitoba. The decision should be community-driven, made by local elected councils and their citizens.
The forced nature of this initiative has created dissension amongst our members and mistrust between municipally and provincially elected officials.
Leader of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative party, Brian Pallister, addresses the AMM Board during Lobby Day.
It is apparent that the majority of municipalities are not interested in amalgamation. To date, the AMM has received copies of over 70 letters and resolutions from our members to Manitoba Local Government outlining their opposition to this idea.
Our questions about why municipalities have to amalgamate, how they will benefit and why the process is so rushed remain unclear to this day.
After all, the number of bridges, community centres and kilometers of road will not be reduced if we have fewer municipalities.
Why are real concerns not being addressed, such as the massive infrastructure deficit, the need for alternate sources of revenue and the lack of housing? These are the most pressing issues facing municipalities today.
There is absolutely no evidence that amalgamation will solve these issues or result in significant savings for municipalities.
Just to clarify – the AMM is not opposed to amalgamation.
Those municipalities that have amalgamated over the past several years have reported success.
The distinction of course, is that the decisions to amalgamate were voluntary, they occurred after adequate consultation with their citizens, and they occurred at a pace that was comfortable to all the partners.
So in essence, we have three main issues:
1. The AMM believes it is important that amalgamations, if initiated by local councils, have reasonable timelines to make sure any issues that arise can be resolved.
2. We are also concerned with the use of the 1,000 population threshold as a measure of the viability of a municipality. We know of many municipalities with populations below this threshold operating very efficiently.
3. The AMM is especially concerned that the role of the Municipal Board will be taken out of the amalgamation process. This will remove the public’s opportunity to have a say in what will be one of the most important decisions their community ever makes.
The AMM was not consulted prior to this announcement, but we have tried to work with Manitoba Local Government by suggesting the following compromises:
1) We would like the Province of Manitoba to assess the viability and sustainability of the communities it is targeting, and eliminate the 1,000 threshold requirement.
2) The Province could then assist municipalities who choose to amalgamate by providing all the support necessary, monitoring the implementation and highlighting its benefits;
3) And, the Province could work with those municipalities that are struggling to be sustainable on acceptable timelines that will result in better service delivery.
The AMM has had numerous discussions and meetings with the Province since the amalgamation announcement was made and we are disappointed that the government has not listened to our members’ concerns.
Making matters even worse is the fact that the real issues holding back communities are not being addressed. For instance:
- Municipalities complain that development plans and subdivision approvals are not processed fast enough. This slows down economic development in communities that are in fact trying to grow.
- The Province cut grants to Regional Development Corporations a year ago, and a promised replacement program has yet to be announced.
- The lack of adequate housing in many communities means they can’t attract workers for local industries, or health professionals to fill shortages.
- Ever increasing responsibilities downloaded from other orders of government continue to put pressure on municipal budgets.
We believe working together with the province to fix issues such as these would help our members to remain viable and sustainable over the long-term.
Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux responds to AMM remarks during Lobby Day 2013.
The other pressing issue will also be no closer to being addressed through amalgamations. That issue is, of course, the infrastructure deficit and the need for alternate sources of revenue to fund infrastructure.
Despite significant efforts by the provincial and federal governments and by municipalities, our communities still face enormous challenges.
The infrastructure deficit for Manitoba is estimated at over $10 billion.
The bottom line is this – municipalities need access to new revenue sources.
Federally, municipalities have benefited from a GST rebate, the sharing of the federal gas tax and the Building Canada Fund as well as Stimulus Funding.
And, the most recent federal budget had some very positive announcements for municipalities.
- It renewed and extended the Building Canada Fund at existing levels from 7 to 10 years, starting in 2014.
- It introduced another $32 billion over 10 years through the Community Improvement Fund. This fund consists of the Gas Tax Fund, now indexed at 2% per year and an incremental GST rebate for municipalities.
- It also recognized the importance of a continued partnership with the municipal sector by allowing the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to provide input into the program parameters. The AMM is hoping to see more details about the program criteria in the coming months.
Municipalities appreciate the Gas Tax Fund because it provides continuing, predictable funding on a per capita basis. The federal government has now expanded the eligible project categories to give municipalities even more flexibility.
Many of our members have told us flexibility will allow them to complete the high priority projects and meet local needs. The predictability also helps them with long-term capital planning and prioritizing projects.
The new Building Canada Fund will also give municipalities the opportunity to apply for projects that have local, regional or national significance.
The AMM also believes it is important for our organization to be at the table to have input into the selection of Building Canada Fund applications. We have made our position clear to the federal government, and we would appreciate provincial support as well.
Provincially, municipalities have benefited from the Building Manitoba Fund. This fund is now tied to the growth in the PST, and support in a number of other forms.
Although funding to municipalities through the Building Manitoba Fund increased by a total of $31 million this year, municipalities outside Winnipeg will only receive $9.5 million of this amount.
The 2013 provincial budget was not clear about future investments in municipal infrastructure and whether the Province will step up by committing to fund their one-third share of the new Building Canada Fund.
As positive as the new Building Canada Fund is, municipalities need to know the Province of Manitoba will keep its commitment to be at the table with its one third funding.
This fund is only accessible if all partners contribute their share, and municipalities need that assurance.
This is especially important given last week’s provincial budget, which raised the PST by one point, without significantly increasing funding to municipalities.
While the AMM has been asking for an additional point of the PST, we were asking for this revenue to be dedicated solely to municipal infrastructure over and above existing funding levels.
Instead it appears the PST hike will be allocated mostly towards provincial infrastructure, including flood mitigation projects, hospitals, schools, and provincial roads.
This is not what we asked for and it is certainly not what we need.
All it has done is taken up the tax room that municipalities needed to make our communities stronger.
And with the increase to the PST, it will now cost municipalities more to do less.
The AMM has requested a rebate on the PST for municipalities for several years.
Not only were municipalities denied this rebate again this year – they will be required to pay an additional one per cent P.S.T. on municipal infrastructure projects.
We believe this is unjust. One order of government should not tax another.
Municipalities receive roughly 8 cents out of every tax dollar, and as a result they already struggle to come up with their one-third of the funding required for major infrastructure projects.
Paying an additional one per cent P.S.T. will only make raising their share more difficult.
This year the Province also announced an investment of $14 million per year for Winnipeg, and another $7 million for other municipalities to help with road repairs and projects over the next 3 years. Manitoba Water Services Board funding will see an increase as well.
Although this is appreciated, it falls far short of the needs.
Perhaps that is why Manitobans have shown support for a new tax dedicated to municipal infrastructure. Polling done by the AMM in 2008 found that 94 percent of Manitobans see infrastructure as a high priority.
In our most recent polling, we found that 9 out of 10 respondents agreed with the message “our communities need help.”
Most interestingly, the poll found about 2/3rds of Manitobans, or 64% support an additional one percent municipal sales tax dedicated to infrastructure renewal projects.
This is an increase of 10% over a similar polling question asked in September 2008. You can be sure that as the infrastructure deficit continues to grow, support for this will only increase.
The bottom line is this: municipalities are struggling.
We are forced to cost-share projects on an equal basis with federal and provincial governments that have much deeper pockets.
The bottom line is this: municipalities are struggling.
We, on the other hand, have only one source of revenue – property tax.
With our 8 cent dollars municipalities have to fund all types of infrastructure, water and sewer repairs, water and wastewater facilities, roads and bridges, recreation and community centres…all the things our citizens need and want.
These are the things that make our day-to-day lives better.
It is tough, and yet despite our challenges, all Manitoba municipalities balance their budgets every year, no matter what their size.
Any order of government that can achieve that is certainly capable of making its own decisions.
UMM Annual Meeting, 1930.
Another round of June District Meetings have come and gone and the age-old process of voting on resolutions within each district, then carrying some of those on to the annual general meeting, has begun. While the annual convention is arguably the most important event municipal officials attend each year, as those resolutions passed by the entire delegate body go on to form the AMM’s lobbying position, the June District Meetings are where those resolutions are born. Believe it or not, this process has been around for almost 80 years. June District Meetings were initiated by the AMM’s predecessor, the Union of Manitoba Municipalities (UMM). This excerpt, from “With One Voice: A History of Municipal Governance in Manitoba”, explains the reasoning:
Better communication was also seen as the key to improving the UMM itself. In 1934 it introduced a new practice that has since become an institution: the June district meetings. President C.L. Stoney explained that the purpose of the meetings, to be held in each of the seven judicial districts over a two-week period in June, was to foster closer communication between the UMM and its members, and raise awareness of local concerns.
Fast forward to 2012, and the purpose of the meetings has not changed, nor has the process. What also has not changed over the years is the willingness of the host communities to go above and beyond to showcase what their area has to offer. Lucky are the AMM executives and staff members who get to experience all corners of Manitoba by enjoying some of the following:
- Parkland – Youth played a big role in McCreary, where O’ Canada was belted out by tiny Echo Desjardins (who had to stand on a chair to reach the mic) and homemade lunch and desserts were served by local high school students in the McCreary Community Centre. In total 7 resolutions were carried.
Ron Forsman accepts his Life Membership Award from AMM during the Midwestern District meeting.
- Western – The Oak Lake School Choir performed three songs to begin the day on a high note. Not one but two long-time elected officials were honoured for 35 years of service – RM of South Cypress Reeve Earl Malyon, and RM of Cameron Reeve Wayne Drummond. The RM of Sifton had an excellent array of prizes too, from gift baskets to a lounge chair to a Texas mickey. Thirteen resolutions were carried.
- Midwestern – RM of Harrison Reeve Doreen Stapleton showcased her musical skills by playing not only the national anthem on the organ, but entertaining during lunch (which was memorable in itself – a full turkey dinner)! Each delegate also received a free bag of perogies at the end of the day, and one lucky draw winner won a barbeque. The highlight, though, was Mr. Ron Forsman graciously accepting a life membership for his many years of service to the Town of Neepawa. A total of 11 resolutions passed.
- Central – It is a well-known fact that the “hall” is often the local gathering place, without which a community runs the risk of fading away. The Village of Austin knows this very well and their brand-new hall with state-of-the-art kitchen is sure to be the gathering place for decades to come. RM of North Norfolk Reeve Neil Christoffersen and Town of MacGregor Mayor Bill Wiebe were happy to showcase their area via a slide show during registration, and Mayor Bill McKitrick of the Village of Crystal City received his 35-year service pin. Ten resolutions were carried.
Hunt's Country Roadhouse in Stephenfield, Manitoba was the setting for the Interlake District Meeting.
Interlake – Hunt’s Country Roadhouse was the scene for this year’s Interlake district meeting, and it’s safe to say an AMM meeting has not often (if ever) taken place in such unusual surroundings. Chock-full of memorabilia running the gamut from valuable antiques to kitsch, with seating ranging from diner stools to picnic tables, it was a neat way to end the week. Our own Rural Director, RM of Woodlands councillor Trevor King, sang the anthem and Councillor Laurie Hunt, RM of St. Andrews (and owner of the Roadhouse) served a delicious lunch. A high of 17 resolutions were carried.
- Northern – The Town of Gillam was the location for this year’s Northern meeting. As is often the case for northern meetings, the day started with an early-morning flight. After opening remarks, Mayor (and AMM director) Jim Goymer took delegates on a tour of Manitoba Hydro’s Kettle Generating Station, the second largest hydroelectric generating station in the province. From there the group continued on to the Radisson Converter station for another tour and lunch before finishing up the meeting (and carrying 1 resolution).
- Eastern – Mayor Wayne Arseny welcomed delegates to the Town of Emerson, where at the direction of Eastern delegates, the meeting began at 1:00 and concluded at 5:30 with a bbq dinner (prepared by local firefighters). Delegates also welcomed a special guest to the Eastern District Meeting – Hetty Walker, County Commissioner, Pembina County USA – and carried 12 resolutions.
L to R: President Doug Dobrowolski, Executive Director, Canada-Manitoba Infrastructure Program, Karline Debance, and Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux.
During each meeting, Executive Director Joe Masi, President Doug Dobrowolski, and Vice-Presidents Eileen Clarke and Roger Wilson updated members on the latest issues. This year, the Honourable Ron Lemieux, Minister
of Local Government, also attended 6 of the 7 meetings to discuss federal-provincial infrastructure programming in Manitoba. Minister Lemieux proved to be an effective facilitator and delegates were eager to share their views on what the next round of infrastructure funding should look like. As President Dobrowolski said, “this is the first time in history municipalities have had the opportunity to influence a federal infrastructure program”, and AMM members made sure their voices were heard throughout this process.
Overall, this year’s meetings went very well and our hosts did a fabulous job showcasing their communities for our members. And of course, the most important result of the meetings – the resolutions – must now be dealt with. In September, the resolutions committee, whose members are elected at each district meeting, will meet to review the 71 resolutions carried during June Districts. From there the resolutions will make their way to the Annual Convention in Winnipeg in November where several sessions will be held to debate them. And while the AGM tends to generate all the media attention and excitement, let’s not forget where the whole process began…at the 78th annual June District Meetings!
Municipal elected officials are a rare breed. They toil long hours at their paying jobs before heading off to council meetings or community events, often several nights each week. As the level of politician closest to the people, they live and work in the communities they are elected to represent, meaning there is no respite from elected life. Whether shopping for groceries, watching a ball game, or having dinner in a local restaurant, the municipal official is never truly considered off-limits by those who put him or her in that position.
It is the rarest of these individuals who thrives in this atmosphere and makes life-long friends wherever he goes; and who loves municipal politics so much he not only proudly served over 25 years on both sides of the desk, but represented – on two separate occasions – his district at the provincial level.
That person, of course, was George Harbottle.
Manitoba’s municipal community was saddened to hear of George’s passing on February 5, 2012 at the age of 72. Having only retired from politics in 2010, he kept in frequent touch with his municipal friends and remained an active member of his community. Having once said his reason for getting involved in politics was “the desire to make a difference wherever and whenever”, his decision to step down suggested he felt he had accomplished just that. At the time, George said “I feel the municipality is a better place than it was 12 years ago and now it’s time to move on.”
He began his career as the Village of Powerview’s administrator from 1963 to 1968, a job he returned to between 1983 and 1988. George went on to serve as Mayor of Powerview between 1968 and 1971. Later, he became the Reeve of the RM of Alexander, a post he held until 2010.
George also served on many committees over the years, including Director of the North East Agassiz Watershed Management Association, Chair of the Winnipeg River Planning District and Director with the Association des Municipalities Bilingues du Manitoba. He was also the recipient of a commemorative medal for community service from the Government of Canada.
Somewhere in all his municipal and volunteer experience George operated, managed and owned various local businesses, bringing them all success attained with his passion and enthusiasm for doing his best. An insurance broker for 45 years, George also worked as a controller for a major transportation firm and was a magistrate for Manitoba Justice.
George often referred to the AMM as ‘the envy of Canada’ and served two stints on the AMM Board as Eastern Rural Director – the first from 2003-2004 and again from 2007 until 2010.
In typical “George” fashion, he met his cancer diagnosis with a fighting spirit and a positive attitude. While accepting his AMM Honourary Life Award during the 13th Annual Convention in November, 2011, Harbottle recognized provincial cancer care organizations in both Winnipeg and Pinawa, saying “It is to their credit that I stand before you tonight”. But that was George – always giving credit where credit is due, and recognizing the positive impact others made upon his life. Rightfully, the person most often recognized was his loving wife Suzanne, whom he never failed to acknowledge in speeches or introductions.
Over 1,200 AMM delegates acknowledged George’s contribution to municipal politics that evening, and all too soon we find ourselves acknowledging him again. “As the Eastern Rural Director for the Association of Manitoba Municipalities on two separate occasions, George’s passion for municipal politics was evident in everything he did,” said President Doug Dobrowolski upon hearing of George’s passing. “George was a true champion for the underdog and it was extremely important to him that everyone was treated fairly. George became an AMM Honourary Life Member recently, and I can’t think of a more deserving recipient. He was also a true friend to everyone in our association and his voice and opinions are greatly missed around our board table.”
George is survived by his wife of 10 yrs. Suzanne, his daughter Bridgette (Richard) Lavoie, his son Vincent (Ilze) Harbottle, his grandchildren, Mark and David Lavoie and Vincent and Danielle Harbottle and his stepchildren, Samuel (Elrika) Nolte, Sandra (Gabrie) Van Eden, Rehann (Alida) Nolte, Hildegard (Rudi) Niemand and 10 grandchildren.
The following op-ed was written by President Doug Dobrowolski and was submitted to the Winnipeg Free Press on January 27, 2012. It was printed in the January 28, 2012 issue with slight modifications. I has also been distributed to all rural Manitoba print media.
Many Manitobans have an opinion about public infrastructure, with good reason: they start their days using municipal streets, roads, and sidewalks to get to work or school, and end them by visiting community centres to access recreation and leisure opportunities. Much of this infrastructure is in poor condition, yet according to The Economist, Canadian municipalities “lack both money and powers” to address growing infrastructure needs. This leading international publication highlighted the fact that municipalities in Canada “get only eight cents out of every tax dollar”, with the majority of municipal revenue coming from property taxes. With municipal budgets being squeezed tighter each year, some municipalities, like the City of Brandon, are looking at implementing significant tax increases this year just to keep up.
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) conducted a poll recently to find out what Manitobans think the priorities of the new provincial government should be over the next four years. When asked which of five areas should benefit if the provincial government were to dedicate additional revenues from the P.S.T. to a specific purpose, 44 per cent of respondents indicated they would dedicate these funds to community infrastructure improvement—well ahead of the numbers recorded in favour of health care (27 per cent) and education (11 per cent).
Respondents were further asked if they would support a one-cent Municipal Sales Tax on the condition that these funds would be used only for infrastructure renewal projects. 64 per cent of Manitobans supported this idea—an increase of 10 per cent from 2008, when the same question was asked in a similar poll.
What these numbers really illustrate is that people understand the connection between infrastructure funding and a healthy, prosperous community. They also show that citizens understand the increasing demands they are putting on their local governments. Today, Manitobans naturally and rightfully demand not only essential services like snow clearing and garbage collection, but infrastructure like multi-use recreation facilities. These amenities are important for health, quality of life and sense of community.
Often, facilities that contribute to our health and wellness—and thus reduce health care costs —must take a back seat to the infrastructure we don’t see, like crumbling water and sewer lines. A recent Forbes article refers to infrastructure as “every system under and above ground that allows us to enjoy this thing we call modern civilization. Without well-functioning infrastructure, we’d have nothing even approaching a first world existence.” However, new infrastructure is impossible to achieve when the existing infrastructure is anything but well-functioning. In fact, it is breaking down as fast as it can be repaired.
In Gimli, for example, the sewer and water systems were built in 1957, and are now costing taxpayers $100,000 a year just to be patched up. Mayor Lynn Greenberg is quick to note Gimli has been fortunate to receive federal and provincial funding for both new and aging infrastructure in the past, but there remains a considerable laundry list of needs in the area.
“Waterline replacement will be a $10M job, sewer line renewal is an $833,000 job, a regional water system will total $34 million, and we still owe almost $8 million on our sewage treatment facility that will mature in 2032,” stated Greenberg. “Where are we going to get the money for all this?”
Other municipalities have pressing issues as well.
“Our RM is 640 square miles and we have many citizens without access to rural water,” says Reeve Kam Blight of the RM of Portage la Prairie. “Without access to safe drinking water, quality of life goes downhill.”
I heard these examples and dozens more last summer while on a tour of Manitoba communities as part of the AMM’s Putting Communities First campaign. They illustrate why the AMM has been calling for a greater portion of revenue from the government to be dedicated solely to municipal infrastructure. This money would generate millions of dollars per year to be shared directly with Manitoba’s 197 municipalities. There is no doubt revenue over and above existing levels would be a positive step forward in addressing Manitoba’s estimated $11 billion infrastructure deficit, as councils would be able to address the specific infrastructure needs of their communities.
Premier Greg Selinger, whose party pledged millions of dollars to health care during last fall’s provincial election campaign, told delegates at the AMM Annual Convention in November that he would not consider a Municipal Sales Tax. Yet as Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz asked just days before the election:
“What’s the point of investing more money into health care if ambulances can’t navigate our roads?”
More and more Manitobans show that they are in favour of dedicated funding to solve infrastructure priorities. Greater funding in this area would generate much-needed economic spin-offs, as well. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities says for every $1 invested in local infrastructure, federal, provincial and territorial governments receive a combined 35 cents, mainly through new income and sales tax.
In other words, infrastructure spending is not a drain—it is an investment that will help communities. And according to the AMM’s poll, 9 out of 10 Manitobans agree that our communities need help.
The AMM is involved with an exciting opportunity upcoming in October, 2012. We have signed on as an Affiliate Partner of Centrallia, a highly successful global business forum.
Centrallia will bring together more than 600 business leaders from more than 40 world economic regions to Winnipeg from October 10-12. Called “North America’s global business matchmaking forum”, Centrallia attracts hundreds of business decision-makers from around the world and strategically matches them in a series of one-on-one meetings. By connecting small to medium sized companies with others to find common opportunity, Manitoba businesses can promote their products and services internationally, while international businesses can seek expansion into Manitoba.
Joe Masi, AMM Executive Director, says “this presents an enormous opportunity for municipalities interested in pursuing economic growth in your region. This event is not only ground-breaking, but is an extremely efficient way to make important connections that can move your municipality forward. The possibilities are endless.”
Participants will have access to international trade experts, take part in up to 14 pre-qualified meetings based on selection criteria you supply (which is why the event is sometimes called “speed-dating for business”), enjoy numerous additional networking opportunities outside of the regular meeting schedule, and hear a keynote address by bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, whose books include Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers: The Story of Success.
Take it from Eileen Clarke, AMM Vice-President, Mayor of the Town of Gladstone and business owner: “These types of events are so huge for the province,” she says.
Register early to ensure your place at the event, as registration is limited. More information can be found at Centrallia’s official website at www.centrallia.com.
The AMM 13th Annual Convention is coming up at the end of November. Undoubtedly the most important task for delegates will be voting on resolutions, as those carried will form the AMM’s lobbying direction for the coming year. Over the coming weeks, we will use this space to preview a few of the resolutions coming up for debate, starting with SOCAN fees.
Back in March, during the Midwestern Mayors, Reeves and CAOs meeting, one of the issues raised during the discussion was SOCAN fees. SOCAN stands for the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada. This non-profit member-owned copyright collective represents the people who create music – more than 100,000 Canadian songwriters, composers, lyricists and publishers. And through their affiliations, SOCAN represents hundreds of thousands of other creators and publishers around the world. For those who use music as part of their business or event, SOCAN provides licences to use the world’s entire repertoire of copyright-protected music for public performance and telecommunication – based on fees set by the Copyright Board of Canada.
What does this have to do with municipal business, you ask? Well, it turns out that after every event where Canadian music is played in a municipally-owned venue, the municipality must pay a fee for the use of that music. SOCAN says many people are surprised to learn that music in their place of business or work can be considered a “public performance” of the music – but they shouldn’t be. Buying a CD or downloading music does not include the rights to use the music for any business or community centre application whatsoever. Radio stations pay license fees for playing music on air. Also, advertisers pay handsomely for the use of music in commercials.
So who is required to pay? Well, copyright laws require any business or community centre using music obtain a licence and pay the corresponding fees. This includes: bars and restaurants, retail stores, concert venues, fairs, exhibitions, fitness centres, skating rinks, pools (aquatic fitness), theatres and movie theatres. Chances are you have one or more of these facilities in your community. It might be obvious that the concert you have on Canada Day is subject to SOCAN fees; but less obvious that the CD your aquatic staff play during public swim times is subject as well.
Raising even more confusion is the question of equity throughout the system. Apparently, some municipalities are routinely invoiced for the priviledge of using music, and some are not. There was also concern that the process creates a great deal of paperwork for already overloaded municipal officials. As well, some uses can be paid via an annual license, while some are on an event-by-event basis – confusing to say the least. Further hindering the process is the fact that SOCAN has admitted to having insufficient resources to effectively and equitably impose the tariffs they have been charged to administer.
Many of the meeting participants saw the value of such an organization – some moreso than others. Elected officials come from all walks of life and at least one Midwestern councillor identified herself as a performer in her “other” life who fully recognized the need for musicians to be paid fairly for their art. Hard to argue with that, but the confusing mish-mash of invoicing, licensing, not paying at all or having to pay while your neighbours do not is causing problems for many.
A resolution dealing with just this issue is coming forward at the AMM 13th Annual Convention in November. You can be sure it will create a great deal of discussion.
For more information about SOCAN visit their website (www.socan.ca).
Lorette Community Complex
The final stop of the AMM President’s Tour was in Lorette, Manitoba. While not an incorporated municipality on its own, Lorette falls under the jurisdiction of the RM of Taché, along with the LUD of Landmark. Far from being rural, however, both Lorette and Landmark are communities poised for growth and struggling to find the funds needed to support that growth.
Mayor William Danylchuk of the RM of Taché opened the meeting by outlining the many projects needed in the area. Major upgrades to sewer and water facilities require several million dollars and Danylchuk noted “at the federal level the Prime Minister has been very open about the fact there is no new money coming out for infrastructure.”
Drainage work needs to be addressed also, said Danylchuk, and Councillor Jaques Trudeau agreed. “The farming community has really improved their drainage and the municipalities have improved theirs – but they empty into provincial drains that don’t need just minor repair, they need to be rebuilt. They are not doing what they’re supposed to do.”
Bridges are another concern, as is the downloading from other orders of government – a common theme throughout the President’s Tour. “About three years ago we needed a new lagoon in Landmark,” said Councillor Robert Koop. “But our distribution system was no longer adequate, so we were stuck (footing the bill) again. We have a whole bunch of developers lined up wanting to develop land but we have to tell them no.”
“We think if the province forces things on us, they should also help us get things going.”
Landmark’s Mike Valks noted growth brings challenges. “We’re poised for growth over the next five years. We’ve seen lots of growth in Lorette and Landmark has those opportunities also. Development is key – we know if we bring in more people it helps bring success for the area and the province. Our need is infrastructure. Our growth has flatlined and our school population is declining.” Long-term planning is key, according to Lorette’s Graham Eason. “We need to look beyond the next five years but focus on the next 25 years.”
Lorette's new spray park is a welcome addition to the community's infrastructure.
Several participants raised the need for recreational facilities to engage young people. A brand new spray park was being well used on the day we visited Lorette, but more is needed, including another ice surface to accommodate the community groups who want to run their programs. Facilities that keep kids occupied with recreation opportunities were seen as important to prevent mischief due to boredom.
Tourism is another area suffering from poor infrastructure – the access road to the St. Genevieve Historic Site lacks signage and is not wide enough to accommodate tour buses. The site provides youth employment and summer programs, also helping keep local youth occupied, noted the site’s manager, Diane Dornez-Laxdal, but she also pointed out that “There is an economic spinoff for the community that goes much beyond crime prevention,” she said.
MLA for Steinbach, Kelvin Goertzen, attended the meeting representing the PC party. He said “ultimately, it’s about respect and working together. I am glad we are doing this prior to an election but we should do this all the time. We need to be working together on issues – we are not adversaries. It is not responsible to go to a municipality and say ‘we’re going to download this to you.’ That’s not a respectful relationship.”
The NDP’s Ron Lemiex, representing the La Verendrye Riding suggested “we’re all in this together. The way to achieve things is through partnerships. We’ve just scratched the surface of the infrastructure needs out there…people feel we’re on the right track and moving forward.”
PC Candidate Larry Tetrault agreed with the need for long-term planning and better communication between all three orders of government. He also pointed out private developers should come to the table also and be ready to play a role when it comes to infrastructure replacement.
Tetrault also noted the benefits of recreation opportunities. “I had eight children and they were always at the rink. I never had any calls from the RCMP. They were busy and we need these facilities.”
Jacques Trudeau asked both party representatives for the area – Tetrault and Lemieux – what their strategy would be to help municipalities accomplish their goals, and how the parties can be held accountable.
L to R: AMM Urban Vice-President Eileen Clarke, Diane Dornez-Laxdal, St. Genevieve Site Historique Manager, PC candidate Larry Tetrault, MLA for Steinbach, Kelvin Goertzen, Mayor William Danylchuk, CAO Dan Poersch
Tetrault said the provincial and federal government have more money than municipalities, and “they need to help us solve our problems.” Lemieux suggested MLAs are already very responsive. “We wouldn’t be in politics if we didn’t want to make a difference,” he said.
Mayor Danylchuk noted previous partnerships had indeed made a difference. “It is no secret that Lorette was under a boil water advisory for some time,” he said. “That has been put to rest with help from the provincial and federal government. It is a good example of joining together with the other levels of government to achieve our goals.”
However, achieving goals is becoming more difficult. As RM of Taché CAO Dan Poersch explains, the municipality is “basically in maintenance mode – trying to keep what we have alive. Our ability to invest or upgrade is very limited.”
Aerial shot of the breach site at the Hoop and Holler Bend, Man. (Valérie-Micaela Bain/CBC)
The theme in Portage la Prairie, the second last stop in the AMM’s Putting Communities First President’s Tour, should come as no surprise to anyone who watched the evening news this past spring: water. The flood that resulted in the area receiving national media attention continues to negatively affect the central plains of Manitoba.
Reeve Kam Blight articulated just how devastating this past spring was for the area. “Water management and drainage is a huge issue for us. We need a provincial plan for drainage because the cost is enormous,” according to Blight. “We are paying for their poor planning and it’s extremely scary…we’re full.”
Reeve Blight noted supplying rural water to people is another huge issue – “our RM is 640 square miles and we have many citizens without access to rural water,” he explained.
As dire as water management and supply needs are for the RM, there are even more water-related issues facing the area. Water treatment and nutrient removal from wastewater is also a looming infrastructure expense facing the City of Portage la Prairie. Mandated regulations from the provincial government are expected to cost $25 million, and CAO Dale Lyle noted there has not been any commitment from any other level of government to help fund the project.
CAO Lyle noted the City suffers not only from being squeezed by the state of its infrastructure, but from rising construction costs in Manitoba. “Over the last five years construction costs have increased 50 – 100 per cent” he said.
Mayor Eileen Clarke, AMM Urban Vice-President and Reeve Kam Blight listen as the PCRC's Elicia Funk discusses the housing shortage in Portage la Prairie.
The cross-section of community leaders at the meeting lent some other perspectives to the infrastructure discussion. Elicia Funk of the Portage la Prairie Community Revitalization Corporation (PCRC) stressed the need for housing spanning all sectors – seniors, families, low-income, and emergency short-term housing are all needed. “We’ve worked with another non-profit group for 4 years and are just now starting to build 23 new units, because finding serviced land is such a huge issue,” she pointed out.
Gladstone Mayor (and AMM Urban Vice-President) Eileen Clarke agreed. “Our community is experiencing unprecedented growth and it’s wonderful..but where are we going to put people? We have a situation where 11 immigrant workers are living in less than 800 square feet.”
Local business leaders were also on hand to explain how the infrastructure deficit affects their sector. “It definitely impacts our members,” noted Chamber of Commerce President Dave Omichinski. “Driving around our community you’ll see many, many streets where it is obvious work needs to be done. It doesn’t reflect well when we’re trying to draw in business and increase our population.” Ken Keith, Executive Director of local economic development agency Central Plains Inc., agreed. “Our focus is attracting commerce and business,” he said. “We are blessed with three or four primary industries and they don’t come around every day, but when they DO come around the infrastructure (to support them) has to be there.”
Mayor Earl Porter recited a list of shortfalls resulting from a number of large capital expenditures (water and wastewater treatment plant costs along with a new recreation facility) along with annual shortfalls in virtually every area of the City’s budget. “We’ve got a $1,182,000 shortfall and paving costs are going up this year,” he noted. The Mayor also stressed RCMP costs and fire protection strain the City’s budget. And, while the new PCU Centre multiplex is a positive addition for the community, with even facilitator Richard Cloutier noting “people in Winnipeg buzz about the facilities out here in Portage”, “ the problem is paying for it,” according to Porter.
The closure of CFB Southport in 1992 devastated Portage la Prairie, but this sector has been revitalized in the form of Southport Aerospace. Rep Steven Maybury attended the meeting and noted his industry’s needs are “unique and capital intensive – runways are our number one piece of infrastructure.” Maybury added Southport receives no federal funding, nor is it eligible for the Airport Capital Assistance Program. So what are they doing? “Business development – we’re out their pursuing new sectors,” he explained. Maybury also noted the importance of life-cycle asset management to protect infrastructure. “We plan and implement an annual re-investment each year,” he noted.
Asked to name their top reason the province should invest in municipal infrastructure, participants had varying ideas. Both Blight and Funk stressed quality of life. “Without access to safe drinking water, quality of life goes downhill,” noted Blight, while Funk added “It’s circular – without quality of life you don’t have people coming here and staying here”.
Keith and Omichinski cited economic development as key, with City councillor Liz Driedger suggesting the need for more dry industry. Mayor Porter said he would like to see the City grow, noting “the more people you have the more tax dollars you have”, while CAO Lyle returned to the added regulations and their associated costs. “Both nutrient removal and drinking water standards mandates have added a multi-million dollar ‘fix’ with no identified funding at this point,” he explained. Asked if making users – large industry specifically – pay more was the answer, Lyle said no. “We’d have the large industries leaving.”
As with the other President’s Tour meetings, local candidates for the upcoming provincial election attended and were asked to share their thoughts. PC candidate Ian Wishart
L to R: PC candidate Ian Wishart; MLA for Lakeside, Ralph Eichler; Liberal candidate Michelle Cudmore-Armstrong; NDP candidate James Kostuchuk
suggested “We have a major environmental disaster happening on Lake Manitoba, and no one is talking about that.” MLA for Lakeside, Ralph Eichler, accompanied Wishart and added his party’s perspective: “The call is definitely there that we need to do more. Part of our platform is definitely a watershed management plan.” Eichler also stressed the need to bring urban and rural interests together, and assured the group that “Ian and I will be talking to the Leader (Hugh McFadyen) and your concerns will be heard.”
Liberal candidate Michelle Cudmore-Armstrong suggested alternative water management strategies. “We have become so efficient at draining our land…maybe it’s time we stepped back and look to our marshlands. If there is a natural progression of water why don’t we work with that?” Cudmore-Armstrong also picked up on Maybury’s point regarding the need for asset management. “We have to do regular maintenance on our infrastructure so it doesn’t fall apart.”
NDP candidate James Kostuchuk was philosophical on the need for increased infrastructure dollars. “I’ve always felt taxes are an investment,” he said. “In the flood, people made money. It didn’t go into a bottomless pit. It went into the economy.” Kostuchuk stressed that his party has reduced the education tax burden since taking office, and also contributes one per cent of the PST to infrastructure. President Dobrowolski corrected Kostuchuk on this point, noting the one per cent announced in the Province’s last budget was “a repackaging of existing programs; only $5 million in new money was added.”
Kostuchuk acknowledged the point, but suggested in the end, all voters must wait for the party platforms to make their decision. “if you have issues with infrastructure, look at the parties platforms and see what they stand for. Who is going to give you the most bang for your buck?”
Who indeed? With the writ expected to drop on September 6, official party platforms will soon follow and we will see which of the parties is ready to put communities first.
- Replacement of over 35,000 m of water mains – $70 million.
- Replacement 180,000 m of sidewalk – $18 million.
- Investment in future development – $40 million.
These are just a few of the facts and figures illustrated in a handout titled “Brandon Infrastructure – Investing in the city we want our children’s grandchildren to live in” shared with the almost 40 participants at yesterday’s Putting Communities First President’s Tour stop in the City of Brandon. From the handout and the ensuing discussion with members of Brandon’s development, tourism, business, economic development and municipal sectors, one thing is clear: this is a city that wants to grow.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst chats with the media.
If anyone can drive growth in the city, it is probably Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, serving her first term on council. “When I was running for Mayor, it was exciting to think of all the things we could do together as a community,” said Decter Hirst in her opening remarks. “Since the election of course I found out it’s going to be incredibly challenging to do any of the growth we want to do in this city unless we turn our attention to something that’s not glamorous at all which is hard infrastructure… what’s on the ground and under the ground.”
The Mayor joked about a tax increase of 112 per cent in 2012 but quickly turned serious again: “Because that’s what it would cost if we’re going to get our heads wrapped around this. We need $165 million dollars, and that’s not even the NEW stuff. That’s just for the stuff that we need to fix. So how does a community of 50,000 people do that?”
According to the city, 20% of Brandon’s infrastructure is 100 years old. In the blunt words of Mayor Decter Hirst, “That’s crap running through dirt. Is that the kind of community we want to raise our kids in? Absolutely not.” She also cited water mains, sidewalks, streets, public buildings, housing and economic development as priorities for her council. “People drive back and forth and don’t even know Brandon is here…what we don’t need is a sign, what we need is to take Brandon to the Trans Canada Highway.”
Decter Hirst also noted there is an opportunity to attract up to 10,000 students to Assiniboine Community College “if we only had housing.”
“We can’t afford to wait any more. We’ll never be able to build the city…we’ll never be able to maintain the city…without additional dollars for infrastructure. It’s not a water park, it’s not glamorous, it’s not downtown revitalization, it’s not new programming for youth, it’s not top of mind…but there’s not a councillor sitting around our table who doesn’t understand the critical importance of getting to that infrastructure and getting it fixed because NONE of that other stuff happens without a well maintained infrastructure.”
Housing was mentioned by other participants as well. Marty Snelling, GM for the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation, said “In terms of building new low income affordable housing – everywhere we’ve looked there is not the infrastructure to support building the housing. There’s vacant land, but we can’t build because the systems can’t handle more housing.” Westman Coop Senior Housing representative Harvey Douglas, along with other local developers, echoed the statement. “All we’re trying to do is find serviced land and that is one of the biggest problems the City of Brandon has,” according to Douglas.
Public private partnerships were raised by a number of participants as a potential solution for some projects, and Ted Snure, City Engineer for Brandon, shared a positive example.
Brandon West NDP candidate Jim Murray addresses the group
“Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the negative side that we don’t see the positive. One example is our major wastewater treatment facility in which we are in a P3 position with two very good partners in the community, the federal government and provincial government and ourselves as well. As a result of the initiative we’re putting together we’re going to have a water quality that provides a major opportunity for economic development.”
No discussion about Brandon’s infrastructure would be complete without referencing the 2011 flood, and Nathan Peto, of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce cited the closure of 75 businesses during the spring. “We need some significant infrastructure money to prevent that from happening again. Over one quarter of those businesses said if they were forced to close again, they wouldn’t be reopening. That long term protection…needs to be invested in.” Snure agreed, noting “the provincial and federal government’s decision to begin to look at permanent infrastructure as a solution rather than financing temporary measures.”
AMM Executive Director Joe Masi facilitated the session, and noted polling done by the AMM showed citizens support money being dedicated to municipal infrastructure. Snure said that improving the infrastructure in one block can have a positive ripple effect. Fixing a sidewalk or a street in one small area creates visible improvements that can encourage neighbourhood residents to enhance their own properties. Empty lots in the area are more likely to be purchased for infill housing, as well.
Marlon Kirton of The Town Centre agreed. “Infrastructure is one of those things that you can put money into where you will get a marked difference and an identifiable change. People see the difference infrastructure makes…and it makes our community that much more saleable.”
The City of Brandon was not the only municipality represented. Reg Atkinson, Reeve of the RM of Cornwallis (and a former mayor of Brandon), noted “to pave one mile of road in our municipality means a 50 – 60 per cent increase in the mill rate.” Atkinson later added “the reason we have to fix a mile of pavement every year is because everyone is driving to Brandon!”
The discussion then turned to the AMM’s call for the provincial government to reallocate one per cent of the PST to municipalities for municipal infrastructure, with one participant estimating that would equate to an additional $10 million per year for Brandon’s infrastructure. Masi stressed the AMM’s “ask” is for one per cent of existing, and he further noted “municipalities have to do their share. But many municipalities are at the limit of their borrowing. What we are saying as municipalities is our property tax bases simply cannot meet the needs of infrastructure.”
L to R: Shaun Cameran, Liberal candidate (Brandon East), Jim Murray, NDP candidate (Brandon West), Reg Helwer, PC candidate (Brandon West), and George Buri, Liberal candidate (Brandon West)
As has been the format at the previous President’s Tour meetings in Dauphin and Gimli, the party representatives present were given an opportunity to speak to the issue. Stu Briese, Progressive Conservative MLA for Ste. Rose, noted it’s essential to stop the growth of the infrastructure deficit but stressed his party would not promise something they could not deliver. “There isn’t $240 million magically sitting on the table waiting to be given out…we’re in deficit budgets right now. But the input we are getting from municipalities through these meetings and that the AMM is going to take forward is a step in the right direction” he added.
Jim Murray, Brandon West NDP candidate, stated “this government has no plan to tax or cut its way out of this infrastructure deficit. We realize it’s there, we recognize that, and we also recognize more needs to be done. But I think this government has worked more closely with municipalities and communities than any other previous government has and the packages it has put out are amongst the most generous in the country…but we have no intention of creating a deficit to solve a deficit in another area.” (Brandon East NDP incumbent Drew Caldwell sent his regrets.)
Brandon West Liberal candidate George Buri “infrastructure is at the forefront of our policy and it will be at the forefront of our platform. Liberals are committed to reviewing the funding of municipalities for infrastructure…we need to use the best methods so we are building infrastructure that lasts. We do support one per cent of sales tax revenue going to infrastructure. We also support sitting down with municipalities to discuss other funding issues. And, we will be going beyond that one per cent but I can’t announce that yet…but I think when we do announce it people will be very happy with it.” Buri noted long term water management will be a big part of the Liberal platform as well, adding “the money will be there, and we won’t make promises we won’t keep either.”
Brandon East Liberal candidate, Shaun Cameron, added “It is about having long term predictable programs, and having the research and development put into those programs.”
Mike Waddell, Brandon East PC candidate stressed “making sure it’s a true partnership” (between the province and municipalities) is key, while Brandon West PC candidate Reg Helwar added “if you come with a solution as well as a demand you’ll be more successful.”
At the end of the day, participants were asked to sum up in one sentence why the City of Brandon needs more money for infrastructure. Leave it to Brandon’s effervescent Mayor to sum it up perfectly:
“Infrastructure is the investment we need to increase revenues and fuel our growth.”
Local business leaders, including Bruce Arnason, Gerry Hammond, Dave Hammond and Judy Arnason - take part in a discussion about infrastructure in Gimli.
Stop number two of the AMM President’s Tour of Manitoba – part of the Putting Communities First Campaign – was the Interlake community of Gimli, nestled on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. Not surprisingly, the health of the Lake was top of mind for the group which was largely comprised of local business owners.
“Every municipality should focus on water and drainage because it all ends up in Lake Winnipeg,” said Roy Eyjolfson, representing Evergreen Basic Needs. “You’ve got a guy living in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, and what goes down his sink and flushes down his toilet ends up in Lake Winnipeg.” MLA for Gimli, Peter Bjornson, agreed. “There is no particular sector responsible for the health of the Lake. All Manitobans are responsible for the health of the Lake,” he said. Former councillor Bill Barlow applauded both the NDP and the PCs for coming together to pass the Save Lake Winnipeg Act – “demonstrating a very strong commitment by both parties to deal with the Lake Winnipeg story” – it has resulted in limited success, according to some, like local developer Bruce Arnason. “The problem is the repeated damage to roads and waterfront property due to flooding. What seems to be missing are solutions to the problem.”
Another hot topic for the Interlake group was economic development and its partner, affordable housing. Michael Lazer, General Manager of the Lakeview Inn noted “I’d love to hook up with programs through Red River Community College to train people to move here to work in the industry, but I have no place to put them,” he said. Local realtor Judy Arnason agreed, adding “We need affordable housing…our population is probably the oldest in Manitoba,” she estimated.
Recreation facilities are also sorely needed in the area, according to a group called the Eastern Interlake Multiplex Steering Committee. The group’s representative, Eric Stefanson, focussed on the need for community wellness. “I think it is imperative for the province and the federal government to take a good look at recreation. Health care costs are going up and up, but what are we doing to help municipalities fund these projects? We need them to attract people to the area and build a healthy community.”
Mayor of Gimli, Lynn Greenberg was quick to note Gimli has enjoyed success regardless of what political party is in office. “We have been fortunate. We’ve received $3.5 million from the Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund, $6.5 million from the Manitoba Water Services Board…we’ve had cooperation in the past, but we need cooperation in the future to keep going,” cautioned the Mayor before presenting a considerable laundry list of needs in the area. “Waterline replacement will be a $10M job, sewer line renewal is an $833,000 job, a regional water system will total $34 million, and we still owe almost $8 million on our sewage treatment facility that will mature in 2032,” stated Greenberg. “Where are we going to get the money for all this?”
Gimli Public Works staff show Mayor Lynn Greenberg, President Doug Dobrowolski, Urban Vice-President Eileen Clarke and Executive Director Joe Masi a sewerline replacement they are working on.
The community’s Aspen Park subdivision alone, which the group toured in a “field trip” immediately following the meeting, requires an additional $500 thousand investment in sewer line renewal. “Our sewer and water systems were built in 1957, and are costing us $100,000 per year just for patching and repairing,” explained Greenberg. (In fact, the Public Works staff on the site talked about a day where they responded to eight water line breaks!)
According to Bjornson, “I think clearly we (the NDP government) have been putting communities first through partnerships, and partnerships are key.” Bjornson also cited the current government’s reduction of property taxes on education as freeing up space on the tax bill for some municipalities to dedicate to infrastructure. However, municipalities are still unable to raise sufficient dollars with only one source of revenue, and the division of funds should be more equitable according to Greenberg. “Funding formulas for infrastructure have always been shared equally on a one-third basis. I’d like to see the formula change to something more like 45% federal, 37% provincial, and 18% municipal.”
MLA for Lakeside, Ralph Eichler, (who was accompanied by PC candidate for Gimli, Jeff Wharton) acknowledged the infrastructure deficit facing communities and the need to work with municipalities but would not commit to new funding until “we have a look at the books”. However, he complimented the AMM on the Putting Communities First initiative. “I think the Putting Communities First program is a great program…which I believe will set the pace for the October 4 election.”
So do we.
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities identifies and addresses the needs and concerns of its members in order to achieve strong and effective municipal government.