The province has dropped funding for seven regional development corporations serving rural and northern Manitoba, leaving the future of these entities uncertain.
RDCs were created by the provincial government in the 1960s to jump-start economic development projects and have been jointly funded by contributions from municipalities and the province. Most were staffed by a manager or administrative staff whose jobs are now gone.
Volunteer board members who oversaw local RDCs say they were caught completely off guard to learn in late April that the provincial funding was done.
“There was no indication that they would be cut. There was no discussion. We just simply got a letter saying that’s it,” said Alan Ransom, a past president of the Southwest Regional Development Corporation and a councillor with the RM of Morton near Boissevain.
But MAFRI Minister Ron Kostyshyn said RDCs have long been under review. Other agencies now deliver economic development services and administer business development advice and loans, he said.
“There’s a time when we have to revisit some ideas and refocus on other type of programs,” he said. The province is “refocusing the funding,” he added but offered no details of what may take their place.
Kostyshyn also said not all RDCs were being equally cost shared between the two levels of government with some municipal contributions amounting to less than what the province was kicking in.
“Municipalities have their priorities,” he said.
A 2009 provincial report concluded too many groups were doing economic development delivery in Manitoba.
Titled Manitoba Connects: Building A New Rural Manitoba Economic Development Strategy, it said the system of economic delivery in rural and northern Manitoba was needlessly bureaucratic among a confusing number of groups, each receiving funding either from the local, provincial or federal level.
Another report dating back to 2003 done by the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) concluded the same thing and called for a more focused delivery of economic development services.
But AMM president Doug Dobrowolski wasn’t saying last week whether cancelling funding of RDCs was a step in that direction because municipal leaders don’t know what new approach the province may take.
“They’re being pretty tight lipped about it,” he said.
“We just think it’s just very unfair saying your funding is done. There was no pre-warning.”