Mining reserve fund above $10 million so use it, NDP says

An access to information request filed by the Manitoba NDP shows that the Mining Community Reserve Fund (MCRF) has a balance of more than $10 million, which they say means the provincial government should be spending it to help communities like Thompson.

As of May 6, the fund stood at $10,947,102.10, the response to the NDP’s information request shows. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, $882,431.83 was distributed from the fund.

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Flin Flon NDP MLA Tom Lindsey also introduced a private member’s bill recently to amend the Mining Tax Act and clarify that money from the fund can be spent on projects to help mining communities even if doing so causes the fund to drop below $10 million. The government says the fund must be maintained at a minimum of $10 million at all times, while the NDP contends that legislation only prevents them from causing it to dip below that threshold when it comes to spending money on exploration.

“Bill 234, The Mining Tax Amendment Act, helps clarify the existing legislation that sates there is no minimum amount that must be in the reserve fund before it can be used to assist adverse-affected mining communities,” said Lindsey at the first reading of hit bill.

“The government does have $10 million in this fund that they could be using right now to help support jobs in a community like Thompson.,” NDP leader Wab Kinew told the Nickel Belt News May 27. “We know that [current city] leadership and past leadership have been asking for this mining reserve fund to be used to help Thompson. The government has refused but now we see in this document that they do have the money so what they need to do is start making those investments to keep people working.”

Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen met with Thompson Mayor Colleen Smook and city manager Anthony McInnis while they were in Winnipeg for Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) meetings in the third week of March, and they appealed to him about providing mining communities with access to money in the MCRF.

However, a week or so earlier, Smook had received a letter from Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton, following up on meetings held during the AMM convention last November. On the topic of the MCRF, Wharton wrote, “Legislation guiding the use of the Mining Community Reserve Fund needs to ensure its sustainability and the fund is only used if a partial suspension or closing down of a mine occurs because of a depletion of ore deposits or for new exploration if the balance is at least $10 million. The fund does not currently meet that threshold.”

The Progressive Conservative government has said their inability to use the fund is the fault of the previous NDP government.

 “It deteriorated down below the level that the legislation that was set by the previous administration put it at which was $10 million,” Premier Brian Pallister told Arctic Radio in August.  “Once it gets below $10 million, you can’t give money.”

About three weeks before Pallister’s PCs ousted the NDP after 17 years in power, the balance of the fund was an estimated $13,919,000.

The City of Thompson requested $100,000 from the MCRF for 2018 and $1 million per year in each of the following three years in July 2017. Growth, Enterprise and Trade deputy minister Dave Dyson told the city in the spring of 2018 letter that “we are unable to access the MCRF at this time. The legislation guiding the use of the MCRF needs to ensure its sustainability and the fund is only used if the balance is at least 10.0 M. The Fund does not currently meet that threshold.”

“Thompson has seen very clearly what the impacts of the Pallister government are on the community,” said Kinew. “Housing prices going down, jobs leaving, money not flowing out of CEDF so what we’re calling on them to do to help fix the situation is to use some of the $10 million from the mining reserve fund to keep people working. Imagine if a good chunk of that money were to go out in the community, put people back to work. You’d have money flowing around again. More people working, more money flowing around in the community, that would have a positive spinoff effect on people’s lives directly, on the secondary industries like restaurants and hotels and it would even have an impact on property prices, too.”

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