September 12, 2009
By Bartley Kives Winnipeg Free Press
12/09/2009 1:00 AM Winnipeg cyclists and pedestrians are the biggest winners
in Ottawa’s rush to dole out federal stimulus funds in Manitoba before the
Liberals in Ottawa can defeat the Conservative minority government.
On Friday afternoon, senior Manitoba MP Vic Toews and several Manitoba and
municipal counterparts unveiled $83.2 million of infrastructure projects in
every corner of the province, funded by all three levels of government.
The biggest component was $20 million worth of dedicated bikeways,
bike-and-pedestrian paths and bike lanes on streets in 37 different Winnipeg
The massive infusion of new funds for “active transportation” —
government-speak for cycling, walking or any other means of self-propelled
travel — effectively increases Winnipeg’s trail-building budget by a factor
of eight and allows the Conservatives to answer critics such as Liberal MP
Anita Neville and NDP-affiliated city councillor Russ Wyatt, who have
complained Winnipeg has been left out of federal stimulus announcements.
To place the trail funding in perspective, Winnipeg has devoted just $2.5
million to active-transportation corridors, sidewalks and recreational paths
this year, according to capital budget documents.
“I am awestruck. Twenty million is phenomenal. Twenty million is very big
news when we were sitting at $500,000 (in annual funding) five years ago,”
said Janice Lukes, director of the Winnipeg Trails Association.
Other components of Friday’s announcement include $32 million for water and
waste upgrades across Manitoba, $16 million for cultural institutions, $14
million for roads and $1 million for solid-waste upgrades. There are 74
projects in all, ranging from an arts centre in Stonewall to new roads in
Ste. Rose du Lac to a waste-water upgrade in Norway House.
In Winnipeg, the most significant new project aside from the trail funding
was $4.5 million toward the voluntary amalgamation and expansion of Sturgeon
Creek and Silver Heights community centres. The project, which has long been
the top priority on Winnipeg’s recreation-funding list, had previously been
overlooked by federal and provincial funders for political reasons.
“We were No. 1 on the list and we’re thrilled this is getting done,”
Sturgeon Creek community centre president Linda Smiley said.
The entire $83.2-million infrastructure kitty was put together with $27.6
million from Ottawa, $28.3 million from Manitoba and another $27.3 million
that must be raised by Manitoba cities, towns and rural municipalities,
possibly with the help of private funders.
Toews said “it took months of negotiations” to approve all 74 projects and
promised more infrastructure announcements in the near future.
The Treasury Board president also claimed his government needed to put the
funding commitments on the record before a new election is called. When
Parliament goes back to work on Monday after its summer break, the
government intends to introduce a budget-implementation bill that could
trigger an election, if all three opposition parties vote against it.
If the minority government survives the week, it’s unlikely to last beyond
the end of September, unless the Conservatives make a deal with the NDP or
Bloc Québécois. The Liberals have vowed to defeat the government at the
Future funding announcements may be jeopardized by an election, Toews said.
Winnipeg is expecting more. The city has asked Ottawa for $200 million to
help Winnipeg Transit leapfrog over its bus rapid transit plan and begin
building light rail. Winnipeg has also requested $34 million from Ottawa to
help pay for a component of its $1.8-billion sewage upgrade.
Toews declined to comment about rapid transit, but said discussions about
waste water are still taking place.