Some say we have two seasons in Manitoba – the one where potholes get made and the one where potholes get fixed. Here in the keystone province we know the importance of fixing our roads, which is why one of the hottest topics of discussion at the recent Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) convention was a resolution signed by 102 municipalities to protest Premier Brian Pallister’s government’s decision to cut the Roads and Bridges Program.
Halfway through the past year, Premier Pallister drastically cut the Municipal Road and Bridge Program, which served as an easily accessible pot of money for municipalities to improve the highways and roads rural families rely on. He did this without any consultation with municipalities. The cut left municipalities scrambling to cover the costs of tendered projects and cancel plans for long awaited repairs.
Prior to the cut the program delivered about $14 million of reliable, stable funding. It was praised by leaders for its streamlined model which allowed municipalities to easily access the funds they needed to fix roads and bridges near you quickly. But the Pallister government cut the program by over 80 per cent and said it would only provide a one-time, $2.25 million fund to see municipalities through to the end of the fiscal year.
Manitoba’s rural leaders were clear at the AMM convention: the premier’s cut will have serious long-term consequences for communities and their aging infrastructure. It will mean rural families and workers will be forced to travel on poor quality, sometimes dangerous roadways. It eliminates potentially hundreds of good, well-paying jobs and erases millions of dollars that would be injected into Manitoba’s economy.
For months, the Pallister government ignored 102 municipal leaders’ calls to reinstate the funding and commit to a fair share for rural Manitoba. There’s some talk the province may announce something in this area but municipal leaders fear it will be just a repackaged federal program. That means more hoops for municipalities to jump through to and maybe local tax increases too. All because Pallister won’t share resources with rural Manitoba.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Ddon’t fix what isn’t broken?” I believe that applies to the Municipal Road and Bridge Program. It was a solid, reliable and simple funding program that helped municipalities improve the lives of Manitoba families. It was supported by rural leaders and it grew our rural economy. Now those leaders are uneasily waiting for a new program that likely will not replicate the quality funding they need.
Infrastructure funding creates strong communities and improves the lives of everyday rural families. The Pallister government’s actions have put those communities at risk. It’s time the premier stops shorting rural families and invests in our communities.
Wab Kinew is the leader of Manitoba’s NDP Opposition.