Manitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding held a pre-budget consultation in Thompson Jan. 13, hearing presentations from Mayor Colleen Smook and city manager Anthony McInnis, as well as Volker Beckmann, Bobbi Montean and representatives of Vale, the Thompson Public Library and the Thompson Chamber of Commerce.
Beckmann told the minister how, in his lifetime, he has seen the local economy change from one based primarily on mining to one based on government-funded sectors like health, education social work and justice. The shrinking of the mining sector, he said, has had economic consequences for both the city and the province.
“Vale’s recent downsizing has reduced disposable income here by $60 million per year,” said Beckmann in his written presentation, which he also provided to the Thompson Citizen. “Real estate values have dropped 30 per cent over past three to four years. All this has reduced revenue for the province. We can get some of it back.”
Unfortunately, Beckmann said, the provincial government is slow to provide support to industries that could grow the northern economy, including winter weather testing (WWT), which already exists but could be expanded, and getting into testing for electric vehicles (EVs), which many believe will eventually take over from gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles.
“The first ever EV trade show (Fully Charged) in North America will be held in Texas on Feb. 1-2,” wrote Beckmann. “All new and major EV manufacturers will be present. We are asking to send a Manitoba team (Thompson, Hydro, province, etc. ) to attend and meet with the manufacturers to promote our cold, our nickel, our hydro rates. Thompson and Manitoba could be a world leader in the next three years in WWT and the new EV industry. It is growing so fast that we must get in the EV game now before the business goes elsewhere. Austin, Texas is where it starts in three weeks. We need a Manitoba to be there, or we lose years of advantage. Will you please work with us to grow a new industry?”
Montean told the finance minister that Thompson needs a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine and that businesses and organizations need to be able to get funding to help make their facilities accessible to people with disabilities. She also told him that funding for more community safety officers is needed as well as support for northern filmmaking.
“They aren’t promoting us to the industry … but they seem to be going pretty strong in the south,” she told the Citizen. “They need some help to get the industry up here and working.”
Thompson MLA Danielle Adams said in a Jan. 15 news release that the consultation, held late on a Monday afternoon, was poorly advertised and not well-attended as a result. She also said it comes too late to have meaningful impact.
“Thompson is one of the biggest hubs in the entire northern region, yet our community was clearly just an afterthought for the premier and his minister,” said Adams. “Northerners have a right to meaningful participation on a matter as important as the provincial budget. Pallister’s failure to engage citizens in the North is woefully disappointing. The NDP are here to listen to northern families because we value this region and the people who call it home.”