AMM calls for municipal input into infrastructure spending

The Association of Manitoba Municipalities says a united voice from 
civic leaders made infrastructure a top election issue

The Association of Manitoba Municipalities doesn’t care who the next provincial government is, it’s just happy its message on infrastructure needs cut through the campaign noise.

That was the message from Manitoba’s reeves and mayors at the recent meeting of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities in Brandon, where infrastructure spending topped the agenda.

It’s a message that reverberates from the biggest city to the smallest town and rural municipality, said Rick Chrest, Brandon’s mayor.

“We are all in this together and even the smallest Manitoba community has the same needs as the largest when it comes to acquiring infrastructure funding,” said Chrest. “Enabling each municipality to have a say in how and where these dollars get spent will go a long way in addressing the real needs of communities everywhere in the province.”

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The infrastructure issue has been a growing problem for Manitoba’s towns and rural municipalities. Most recently it was highlighted by an annual CAA Manitoba event where, for the first time ever, streets and roads in rural Manitoba were voted the worst in the province. That distinction is usually reserved for Winnipeg’s perennially potholed streets.

That didn’t stop Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman from speaking up in favour of greater infrastructure investment, noting during a press event that the widespread dissatisfaction speaks volumes for the scope of the issue.

“I firmly believe that great results can only be achieved by having more voices contributing than less,” said Bowman. “I don’t recall a time in my lifetime where I have seen all 137 Manitoba mayors and reeves stand united and call for the same priority in a provincial election campaign and I think that the results speak for themselves.”

Fairness campaign

The results Bowman was alluding to were from a six-week-long AMM campaign to engage Manitoba’s political parties and voters on the topic of infrastructure.

“Our goal with this campaign was to engage Man­itobans and our provincial parties in a conversation about the need for municipalities to receive a fair share of infrastructure dollars and a fair say in how they’re spent,” said Chris Goertzen, president of AMM and mayor of Steinbach. “Clearly, the message resonated with both Manitobans and with our party leaders.”

In February, AMM launched the ‘Fair Share, Fair Say’ campaign with the goal of drawing attention to how infrastructure dollars are currently managed.

“We often have little to no say of how infrastructure dollars are spent in our jurisdictions. So, what we called for with this campaign is a greater share of the monies that are collected, as well as a fair say as to how that money is spent,” said Bowman. “Not only did we initiate a conversation but we also got the main parties to take these issues seriously enough to make it part of their campaign commitments.”

Currently, municipalities are responsible for 60 per cent of infrastructure work in their jurisdiction but only receive eight cents of every tax dollar to carry out the work. They also have very little say as to how the remaining 92 cents are allocated.

A recent report card released by the Federation of Can­adian Municipalities said one-third of all infrastructure in Canada is at risk of rapid deterioration and that, despite the best efforts of local councils, action needs to be accelerated or costs will continue to escalate.

AMM’s ‘Fair Share, Fair Say’ campaign offered up a number of suggestions on how existing tax dollars could be more efficiently allocated.

For example, exempting or rebating the $25 million municipalities pay to the province through PST, ensuring all infrastructure dollars budgeted by the province are fully allocated and spent in each budget year, or dedicating a full one per cent of PST to infrastructure.

“We were intentionally flexible with our requests because we knew that each of the party’s commitments would have to fit into the context of their overall vision for the province,” said Bowman. “And, as a result each party has taken a different approach to addressing this issue.”

Goertzen says AMM will look to continue this conversation with whoever forms the next government in the coming months, noting the organization has always worked with whichever party voters elect provincially.

Over the course of the provincial election, each political party addressed infrastructure and made commitments as to how they would respond if elected.

Both the Liberals and PCs announced the commitment to give AMM a fair say at the table when it comes to setting priorities for major capital infrastructure projects and confirmed that they intend to utilize the full expenditure of annual infrastructure budgets.

The Conservatives laid out plans to initiate a new basket funding model, single window access to programs and greater autonomy in setting and addressing local infrastructure priorities.

They also committed to spending no less that $1 billion on infrastructure.

The Liberals vowed to rebate the PST municipalities pay the province and committed to dedicating one per cent of the PST to a municipal infrastructure fund.

The NDP has committed to funding road projects in Brandon 50/50 and increase its five-year local road commitment to Winnipeg.

Voter priority

AMM representatives were also pleased to see Manitoba voters embrace the need for change when it comes to infrastructure management.

“At the municipal level we have long known that this is our No. 1 priority and I am pleased to know that voters across Manitoba agree,” said Bowman while pointing out the results of an independent poll that was released on April 12 in regards to voter priorities.

The poll conducted by Probe Research, indicated infrastructure as the most important issue on the minds of Manitoba voters.

“I think that it is very rare that you see infrastructure as a higher priority for Manitobans than health care and education,” said Goertzen. “While health care and education are very important, I think that Manitobans have realized the real challenge our communities face when it comes to our streets, sewers, and recreation facilities. They see that they are in disrepair and they want a solution.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Paige

Jennifer Paige is a reporter centred in southwestern Manitoba. She previously wrote for the agriculture-based magazine publisher, Issues Ink and was the sole-reporter at the Minnedosa Tribune for two years prior to joining the Manitoba Co-operator.

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