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Editorial: Funding announcements in an election year? How unexpected!

Projects like the Thompson airport and Hudson Bay Railway didn't suddenly become worthy of investment after years of inattention, but suddenly they're a priority.
Transportation Minister Doyle Piwniuk speaks in Thompson March 28 when the provincial government announced that it is providing $15 million towards a new terminal building and other improvements at the Thompson Regional Airport.

Before the dissection of their cynical timing begins, let’s say this off the top. It isn’t a bad thing when governments decide to invest in community and regional infrastructure, particularly when it is located in your community or region. Without government funding from both the federal and provincial governments, Thompson wouldn’t be getting 20 kilometres or so of roads redone over last year, this year and the three after that. It wouldn’t also be replacing water and sewer lines over the same time period. And it would be $11 million further away from paying for a pool than it currently is, which may be far from a majority of the money that is needed to complete the project, but it still isn’t anything to sniff at, particularly in a city where the annual budget has never been more than about $40 million and only reached that pinnacle because of the first two infrastructure projects mentioned earlier in this paragraph.

Citizens need governments to spend money to make their lives better, particularly in  unprofitable sectors of the economy that private industry isn’t apt to step in and run because, well, there isn’t any money in it.

That said, one can’t help but be a little suspicious at the timing of some recent announcements by Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government, given that an election is expected to happen later this year.

There are perfectly good and practical reasons why Manitobans are being subjected to a slew of spending announcements now. By the time summer rolls around, people will be busy doing other stuff like not shovelling snow (potentially) or experiencing 20-degree temperature swings within a 24-hour period. Many people pay politics very little attention at the best of times, and even fewer do during the few precious warm months that Northern Manitoba receives. Also, because the legislature is in session, the government can actually do things to make these announcements move forward, rather than having them be nothing more than empty words. Lastly, once the election is officially called, government resources can’t be used to promote the Progressive Conservatives’ achievements. Getting publicity for policies you think are good is one of the fundamental cornerstones of electoral politics.

So anyway, there are definitely reasons why this is happening and it was great to hear, last week, that the Thompson Regional Airport is getting $15 million from the provincial government to put towards its new terminal building and other infrastructure improvements. It’s a far busier airport than the size of the nearest community would necessarily warrant were it not such a hub for freight and for moving in and out the people that are needed to do construction or run the justice system and so on and so forth.

Still, the airport terminal replacement project has been in the works for what seems like forever, with much lobbying done for years before the federal government announced that it was putting $28 million towards the project in 2019. That’s nearly four years ago. But of course, the provincial contribution, had it been made back then, would have been overshadowed by the more substantial federal support and besides, governments don’t usually get turfed out after only one term unless they have done something really stupid or performed really badly.

Similarly, provincial funding for the Hudson Bay Railway and Port of Churchill is definitely needed and there are plenty of people who will argue that it will be beneficial to Northern Manitoba and the province as a whole to have a well-maintained and reliable rail transportation link through the north and to the ocean via Hudson Bay. That was also true five years ago, when Churchill was without a land transportation link for more than year. At that time, the provincial government had no interest in supporting the rail line to help it get, literally, back on track.

Belated though these investments may be, they are welcome and will hopefully demonstrate to politicians in Winnipeg that supporting northern development is in the best interest of all Manitobans, not just those who live north of the 53rd parallel. 

Speaking of the 53rd parallel, it is rather rich for the government to tout its investments in Highway 6 as support for the north, given that much of what is planned in the PCs five-year infrastructure investment plan for that particular highway will take place south of the 53rd parallel, i.e. the official demarcation line between southern Manitoba and the north. Certainly, northerners use that section of the road to get to Winnipeg, but Interlake residents use it more. And while there has been a fair amount of paving work and other improvements done between Ponton and Thompson over the past few years, it would really be nice to have a passing lane, for example, before kilometre 700 of a 736-kilometre drive. Just sayin’.

Governments do things for people all the time, often because they believe it’s needed or just the right thing to do. Sometimes, however, they feel like that friend that everybody has. You know, the one who shows up to your parties and reaches out when they need a favour but aren’t around to help you move because the relationship is more about what you can do for them than about what they can do for you.

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