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Thompson MLA asks province to increase financial support for a new pool

$11 million in federal-provincial infrastructure funding doesn’t buy as much in 2022 as it did three years ago when the application was drafted and submitted.
Thompson MLA Eric Redhead presented a private member’s resolution in the Manitoba legislature Oct. 27, calling on the provincial government to increase its financial support for a new pool in Thompson to replace the Norplex Pool, which was permanently shut down nearly four years ago.

Funding for a new Thompson pool became a political football in the Manitoba legislature Oct. 27 as MLAs debated Eric Redhead’s private member's resolution calling for the province to cover the shortfall between the money Thompson has been promised and what the facility will actually cost to build.

Last spring, the provincial and federal governments pledged $11 million — $5 million of it from the province — toward a new pool in Thompson. The City of Thompson must contribute at least $4 million and there have been private sector donations, most notably $2 million from Vale. 

But the COVID-19 pandemic that came between when the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program funding application was submitted and the costing out of the construction design, which is expected to be tendered by the city soon, inflation rose dramatically, driving up construction costs and meaning the total cost will actually be mush higher than the $15 to $19 million that was estimated in 2019.

Colleen Smook, who was re-elected as Thompson’s mayor on Oct. 26, said during the election campaign that the city wasn’t releasing the final cost estimate before the project went to tender because they don’t want bidders to jack up the price to that level based on that knowledge. But people have estimated that the total price tag could be as high as $30 million.

“To ask a small city to find an extra $5 million so that its members — its community members, its seniors, its youth, its families — are going to be able to have a safe, fun recreation facility, it’s nearly impossible for a community that size to find an extra $5 million,” said Redhead.

Some Progressive Conservative government MLAs tried to punt the issue to the federal government, which is committed to pay up to $6 million for  new pool.

“A portion of funding allocated for this Thompson aquatic centre came from the Liberal-NDP federal coalition,” said Dauphin MLA Brad Michaleski. “Are they being asked to step up?”

Others said the responsibility for costs not included within the approved funding application lies with the city.

“Why were these contingencies not accounted for within the original plan, when they applied for the three-way funding?” ask ed Swan River MLA Rick Wowchuk, while Fort Whyte MLA Obby Khan asked what the ICIP agreement says about cost overruns, prompting Redhead to say they are funding shortfalls, not cost overruns, as construction of the project hasn’t yet started and likely won’t until after the passing of the four-year anniversary of the Norplex Pool’s permanent shutdown in February 2019.

Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont said it was baffling that the province won’t up their contribution while at the same time doling out education property tax rebates to all and sundry.

“If we can find $350 million for that, to cut cheques to Bill Gates or to the Koch brothers and big commercial landlords who don’t really need the tax break and are doing pretty well, we can certainly afford to find the money to fund things like the Thompson aquatic centre,” he said.

Labour Minister Reg Helwer, who was in Thompson when the federal-provincial funding for a pool was announced one day before the province called a byelection to fill the Thompson MA vacancy left by Danielle Adams’s 2019 death, said Smook referenced $130 million in outside funding coming into Thompson in remarks after being re-elected but also said the government is willing to listen to the city’s concerns at the appropriate time.

“They will issue the RFP [request for proposals], they will find out what the market will bear, they are responsible for any cost overruns but I’m sure they’ll come and talk to us, and we’re already talking to the federal government about the things that we are seeing out there,” Helwer said.

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