The AMM kicked off a President’s Tour of Manitoba yesterday in Dauphin, representing yet another spoke in the AMM’s “Putting Communities First” wheel. The initiative, launched in June as a precursor to October’s provincial election, has so far resulted in well over 100 Manitoba municipalities passing resolutions of council calling on all parties to commit a portion of the provincial sales tax collected by the provincial government to municipal infrastructure.
The purpose of the President’s Tour is to bring the campaign – along with the AMM’s President, Doug Dobrowolski – to various communities across the province to hear first-hand some of the most pressing infrastructure issues in those communities. The guests – municipal officials, community leaders, and of course, candidates in the upcoming election – all had something to say and various ideas as to what the major issues are.
Cloutier Reports – to the area even before the meeting began), the group was asked to “focus like a laser on this issue”. And they certainly did. Some cited worry about the future: “My concerns are for the future generations and the money they will need to sustain our infrastructure,” (Lyle Stokotelny, Superintendent of Operations, City of Dauphin) while others referred to the past: “My grandfather built roads that were adequate; my Dad upgraded them; and now my council is upgrading them again.” (Reeve Dennis Forbes, RM of Dauphin)
Still others alluded to the need for bricks and mortar infrastructure before beautification projects: “You can improve the community by putting things above ground – like flowers and parks – but if what you have below the ground is crumbling, it’s no use.” (Bill Hart, Dauphin Neighbourhood Renewal)
Not surprisingly in the Parkland area of the province, cellular service and high speed internet were on top of the list of concerns. “I was talking to a large producer yesterday who said he was ready to throw his cell phone in the header of his combine. We need cell service as much – or more – as anyone else,” said Ron Hushirchuk, former councillor, RM of Dauphin. Others were more tongue in cheek – “You can turn your computer on, perform your search and go and have supper. That’s what we call ‘high speed’ in the Village of Winnipegosis” joked Larry Pascal. But there is no doubt connectivity is a huge issue right across rural Manitoba, one that MLA for the Dauphin and Minister of Agriculture, Stan Struthers, readily admitted. “We want every Manitoban to have access” he said, while acknowledging the level of service provided is spotty at best.
Other questions resulted in verbal sparring between Struthers and Stu Briese, Progressive Conservative MLA for Ste. Rose, who accompanied the candidate for Dauphin, Lloyd McKinney to the meeting. When asked if the PCs would commit to a PST rebate for municipalities, Briese cited a private members bill he put forward in 2009 and noted leader Hugh McFadyen recently expressed interest in the idea of a rebate. Struthers – openly admitting his government has not committed to a rebate – shot back with that the PCs wanted the government to cut the budget, and stressed it is impossible to cut a budget and provide a rebate at the same time.
One thing everyone agreed on is the need for all three orders of government to work together. “We’re going to have a provincial government that’s going to be faced with a huge bill when it comes to infrastructure,” said Struthers, “and we can’t do it alone. When three levels of government get together to do a job, we see good things happen. Everybody has to be at the table.”
Dauphin Mayor Eric Irwin was even more succinct: “We need to turn to the senior levels of government because they get 92% of the money.”
While many other comments about the state of local infrastructure were heard, it wasn’t all negative. Cloutier asked for examples of positive infrastructure, and Mayor Irwin was quick to point out the Parkland Recreation Complex (where the meeting was held) as a perfect example. The facility has enabled the community to host large events like the Royal Bank Cup, generating millions in revenue and promoting tourism. “We have to have facilities like this in order to attract people, especially young families, to live here.”
Both parties represented – the PC’s and the NDP – acknowledged the infrastructure deficit exists as does the need to find ways to address it. Neither was open to raising taxes, however, and Dauphin CAO Brad Collett agreed. “Let’s say you raise the taxes. Well now you have money to fix your infrastructure, but no one who wants to pay high taxes. People start leaving your community…it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
While the result of October’s election is anything but a self-fulfilling prophecy, Richard Cloutier opened the meeting by promising “what you say here will be asked of those who want to be premier of this province. Trust me on that.” After describing his experience travelling to Dauphin – “My impression is this part of the country is indeed God’s country, but you are taking your life in your hand driving on some of these roads” – there is no doubt he will be true to his word.
Next stop – Gimli.