Manitoba’s premier responded to requests for action on the likely closure of mining operations in Flin Flon in 2021 by repeating an assertion he has made before – that the NDP government’s misuse of the Mining Communities Reserve Fund during their 17 years in power has hamstrung the Progressive Conservatives’ ability to make use of it.
“The member has the chance to stand up for the people of Flin Flon by, for example, admitting the NDP spent all the money out of the mining reserve but not on helping communities that have mines,” Premier Brian Pallister said in the Manitoba legislature.
It’s an argument he has used before, most recently when speaking to Arctic Radion News in Flin Flon in August.
“The fund was allowed to depreciate,” he said then. “It deteriorated down below the level that the legislation that was set by the previous administration put it at which was $10 million. Once it gets below $10 million, you can’t give money.”
The NDP Opposition doesn’t agree with the government’s interpretation, saying that the prohibition on spending when the fund is below $10 million only applies to exploration incentives, not on helping out mining towns that have hit hard times.
In the 2017-18 fiscal year, the province spent a little over $1 million from the fund – $1,008,700 on the Mineral Exploration Assistance Program (MEAP) and $50,700 on the Manitoba Prospectors Assistance Program (MPAP). In June of this year, the balance of the fund was $11,257,500 but only $86,000 was transferred into it for the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2017, six per cent of total mining taxes collected, which were less than $1.5 million.
On March 31, 1999, shortly before the NDP took over as government, the Mining Communities Reserve Fund balance was $19,118,000. From April 1, 1999 to March 31, 2006, a total of $15,430,200 was transferred to the consolidated fund to pay for approved projects. However, mining taxes were also bringing more into the fund at that time - $2.92 million in 2007, which represented only three per cent of nearly $97.5 million in taxes collected under the Mining Tax Act, prior to the maximum yearly contribution to the reserve being raised to six per cent.
On March 31, 2007, there was $13,390,281 in the mining communities reserve. Nine years later, 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, about half-a-million dollars more. Orders-in-council from 2016 authorized transfering up to $1.5 million each year until 2018-19 to pay for costs associated with MEAP and $100,000 each year for costs association with MPAP. A transfer of $400,000 to offset costs associated with the Manitoba Geoscience Advantage Program was approved in 2016-17. The actual amount spent can vary since these transfers cannot cause the reserve to dip below $10 million. No transfers in our out of the reserve have been approved since the end of the last fiscal year at the end of March, according to orders-in-council posted on the province’s website.
Since January 2007, the earliest date for which Manitoba orders-in-council are available online, there have been a total of 25 payments into and out of the fund – 10 deposits and 15 withdrawals, with the total deposits during that time amounting to just under $16 million and the total withdrawals about $20,572,300.