Winnipeg’s upcoming municipal election is Oct. 26 and Manitoba Heavy Construction Association (MHCA) president Chris Lorenc stressed that no matter who wins, infrastructure and city roads need to be a key focus.
“Our regional street system in Winnipeg carries 80 per cent of the traffic. It’s the foundation upon our ability to move people to jobs and products to market is built, and many of them are in a deplorable condition,” Lorenc said.
“Funding between Winnipeg, Manitoba and Ottawa for regional street systems ends in 2023. What’s the plan?
“To go back to a more fundamental concern, our association, industry along with other business organizations have repeatedly advocated the view that growing the economy is each level of government’s policy priority,” Lorenc said. “If you are not growing the size of the tax base, if you are not attracting investment, if you are not generating new areas of economic activity or enhancing existing areas of economic activity, you are not growing the size of the revenue stream. Therefore you are unable to meaningfully discuss funding health care, education, social services, security, recreation and infrastructure.”
He stressed it should be a priority for both Winnipeg’s mayor and council to “acknowledge that the infrastructure budgets should be, as a matter of first priority, harnessed to the best ROI to GDP opportunities that exist.
“That doesn’t mean that you ignore maintaining, repairing, rehabilitating or enhancing what you have. But if you look at where you’re going to be investing your capital program, what’s the best bang for buck?” Lorenc said.
Many Manitobans, himself included, he said, don’t pay attention to politics in the summer but begin to focus on pre-election issues past Labour Day. To that end the MHCA is hosting a mayoral forum on Oct. 5 featuring the candidates vying to lead Winnipeg.
“The only area that we’re going to be questioning them on is economic growth. What’s your policy? What’s your approach? What’s your vision? Where do you see investment having to be made? What is your economic growth strategy? How are you going to orient your administration to think growth to think our way to GDP?” he said.
Lorenc also pointed to other western provinces as ahead of Manitoba in terms of fiscal health.
“We look at provinces to the west and they’re balancing their budgets, they’re showing surpluses and Manitoba now is the one province that is out of step with what appears to be happening in Western Canada right now,” he said, acknowledging both Alberta and Saskatchewan have the advantage of resource royalties and B.C. has “always been prolific in terms of trade.”
“In Manitoba we need to be able to harness our strengths to grow the economy instead of simply looking at the expenditure size of budget. How do you harness infrastructure to support that growth? What is your strategic plan as it relates to investment in infrastructure? Do you know the condition of your existing system?” he asked.
He added collaboration with the private sector to improve road design, using access to recyclable materials such as crushed concrete and responsible resource management should also be key priorities.
“Those are the kinds of things we think we should be hearing about (and that) we want to hear about from our candidates for the office of mayor,” Lorenc said.