Manitoba municipalities continue to achieve landmark levels of growth, contributing over $16 billion annually to the provincial economy. In fact, municipalities outside of Winnipeg contribute a full 35 per cent to Manitoba's total GDP while boasting more than 12,000 businesses, some of the fastest-growing communities in Canada, investments by large multinational companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars and the largest residential growth in decades.
Clearly, municipalities are helping to fuel Manitoba's growth.
Population sizes in the towns of Niverville, Ste. Anne, Neepawa and Snow Lake have increased 30.2 per cent, 30 per cent, 27 per cent and 24.3 per cent, respectively, according to the last census. Meanwhile, the RM of Portage la Prairie is involved in two multinational projects - the $400-million Roquette pea-processing plant and the $460-million Simplot expansion, which have created numerous economic spinoffs and investments, as well as 250 new jobs in the municipality.
At the same time, the City of Winnipeg continues to experience rapid growth, with residential and non-residential building permits up 20.6 per cent and 28.4 per cent respectively, based on 2015-17 data. The population of Winnipeg is also growing faster than the provincial and national averages and is on track to reach the one-million mark by 2035.
These are just a few examples of what's happening in municipalities across the province that is fuelling Manitoba's economic engine, and we want to do more.
However, with growth comes not only opportunities, but also challenges and financial pressures often caused by municipalities having to contribute more than their share of funding - sometimes up to 50 per cent to build the roads, water and waste-water facilities needed to move growth projects forward.
With a provincial election nearing, the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) is calling on the next provincial government to work with us to fuel further economic development with a new Partners in Growth initiative that creates a Growing Manitoba Together memorandum of understanding that:
establishes a multi-year partnership program to ensure long-term stable and predictable funding as a counterbalance to the current three-year operating funding freeze;
is tied to growth in Manitoba's GDP as both an incentive and a recognition of municipal efforts and increasing costs to keep Manitoba growing;
includes a rebate of the PST paid by municipalities, consistent with the federal rebate of the GST;
moves to multi-year budgeting to assist with long-term planning and priority setting.
The AMM believes these requests are modest, reasonable and defendable, as partnering with municipalities to grow local communities and invest in public infrastructure will contribute to Manitoba's economic development and help make Manitoba the most improved province in Canada.
Since 2016, municipal operating funding support from the provincial government has remained frozen, thereby hindering economic development and opportunities for growth. This three-year freeze puts local governments further behind as they try to manage their infrastructure deficits and deliver public services expected by their residents.
This reality is compounded by the fact that out of every tax dollar collected, municipal governments receive less than 10 cents, but are responsible for more than 60 per cent of public infrastructure. Municipalities also pay more than $25 million in PST annually to the provincial government - funds that should be staying in local communities where they can be invested more quickly to foster further growth and fix streets, roads and bridges.
To continue growing Manitoba, municipalities require long-term predictable funding, not only to keep up with current challenges, but also to address future ones. Being asked to do more with less does not recognize inflationary increases and limits economic development in local communities.
That's what Partners in Growth is all about - a new way to look at how we can all better work together to keep Manitoba's economic engine revving, with a fair and balanced approach to funding. It is also an opportunity for us to rethink economic development in Manitoba with a program that balances fairly who pays for what among all levels of government.
The best way to strengthen Manitoba is by joining forces as Partners in Growth, knowing that we can help further fuel Manitoba's economy through stable, predictable funding to make sure we are all part of the same winning team when it comes to helping build a stronger Manitoba.
Ralph Groening is president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.