A key Manitoba infrastructure stakeholder is questioning the province’s commitment to and funding of highway infrastructure.
The Manitoba Heavy Construction Association (MHCA) submitted its pre-budget 2019 recommendations to Premier Brian Pallister on Sept. 7. MHCA president Chris Lorenc said his organization wants three things from the next provincial budget.
“We want the budget restored to the promised level of $500 million; the government to let the industry know what its plans are for contracting out in-house infrastructure projects; and commit to an annual and five-year rolling program and asset management report,” Lorenc said.
The pre-budget submission also states the government should undergo a comprehensive review of how it funds infrastructure as well as create a core infrastructure investment strategy.
The Manitoba government’s 2018 budget focused on reducing the province’s deficit, including cutting $152 million from highway infrastructure spending, reducing funding to $350 million from $503 million the previous year.
“There’s simply no rationale given upon which one could make any credible argument that the system deserves less funding. The highway deficit is said to be six billion dollars, and $350 million doesn’t even keep our head above water,” Lorenc said.
The province’s department of infrastructure said while the government knows the importance of highway projects, it must focus on the interests of all Manitobans.
“Our government is focused on using value for money assessment tools to guide our investments. This includes a strong focus on competitive procurement processes and reviewing alternative financing models. Manitobans agree that fixing our fiscal situation is a top priority, and that the current debt load is unsustainable. We are focused on fixing the finances of this province, and that is what Manitobans count on us to do,” explained a Manitoba Infrastructure spokesperson.
Lorenc warned if infrastructure funding continues to diminish, the industry may suffer.
“People are bidding just for cash flow. You can sustain that for a year or so, but beyond that banks and creditors won’t be as forgiving and that means people leaving industry or going bankrupt,” Lorenc stated.
“We understood that we needed to be part of a solution, and we support the government’s focus on reducing the deficit, but not at all costs.”
“Our government was elected on a promise to fix the finances and repair the services of this province. We have heard the concerns of industry groups, but we have been clear that we act with the best interests of all Manitobans in mind, and we will do so in a way that is financially sustainable in the long-term,” Manitoba Infrastructure said in response.
Lorenc also pointed to infrastructure as a force multiplier for the economy, since many industries other than construction also benefit from its presence.
“Don’t restrict strategic investment in infrastructure, which gives you the biggest return on investment. Don’t hurt your industries by not investing in the very asset they need to move their product to market,” he said.
Failing assurances by Oct. 31 that the three critical commitments will be made, the association will proceed with its fall public messaging campaign in November and December, an article in the Sept. 20 issue of the MHCA’s Heavy News Weekly newsletter stated.
When asked by the Journal of Commerce about current and future infrastructure commitments, Manitoba Infrastructure reiterated its commitment to current projects but would not disclose future infrastructure funding plans.
“Our government has major infrastructure projects in the construction and design phases across the province, and that work will continue. We will not divulge what is in the 2019 budget, nor will we speak about future funding commitments.”