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Province, Statistics Canada in stalemate

Talks to resolve dispute over population have failed

Manitoba Finance Minister Jennifer Howard

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Manitoba Finance Minister Jennifer Howard

The Selinger government is no further ahead than it was six months ago in resolving its disagreement with Statistics Canada over Manitoba's population.

The province believes the federal agency underestimated Manitoba's population by as many as 18,000 people in the 2011 census.

Finance Minister Jennifer Howard exposed the discrepancy last December along with its negative impact on the province's treasury due to reduced federal transfer payments. Talks between the government and Statistics Canada have failed to resolve the matter.

Premier to Pallister: I'll be back

IT was a zinger that got a quick reaction.

On the last day of the spring sitting, Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister pointedly asked Premier Greg Selinger in Thursday's question period if he planned on resigning and calling an election.

Selinger was quick out of his chair to extol his government's success in adding job-training programs and daycare spaces and fixing streets and highways.

"I look forward to do much more as we go forward," a defiant Selinger said.

Selinger didn't speak to reporters after question period, but his handlers said he has no plans to step down.

Pallister said outside the house he asked the question not just to provoke Selinger.

"I'm interested in knowing what the premier's plans are," Pallister said. "I think NDP members are, too."

The sitting, which began March 6, saw a number of NDP bills passed. Few were contentious; many were purely housekeeping.

The more notable included a new seniors school property-tax rebate, a ban on chemical lawn pesticides, and consumer protection legislation to protect homebuyers and to bring in clearer contracts for distance-communication services offered by cable and Internet providers.

MLAs will return to the house sometime in the fall with a throne speech to outline the governing NDP's policy agenda for the coming year.

Provincial officials say the agency has not responded to a written request made by Howard in January that an independent panel review the numbers. Howard said the province would agree to whatever the arbiter found.

"In terms of our disagreement with Statistics Canada, there has been no change," the province's chief statistician, Wilf Falk, said Thursday. "StatsCan stands by their position and we say there is a statistical error in their calculations of the net number of missed persons in the 2011 census.

"Given that Statistics Canada cannot identify the specific statistical issues inherent in the Manitoba estimates, it is possible that what happened to Manitoba can happen again to another province in the next census in 2016."

Word of the stalemate between Statistics Canada and the province came on the last day of the spring sitting of the Manitoba legislature.

The Manitoba government has said it will lose $500 million in federal transfer payments, which are based on population, over the next five years because of the discrepancy. The province says Statistics Canada stated Manitoba's 2011 population estimate at 1,251,690, but reduced it to 1,233,728, a reduction the province says is not consistent with the number of people filing income tax returns over the same period.

Statistics Canada says its numbers are correct.

Howard, who was unavailable for comment Thursday, said previously the government's goal to eliminate the budget deficit by 2016-17 was in danger due to reduced transfer payments.

Falk said he brought the matter up with the chief statistician of Canada, Wayne Smith, during a recent meeting. Falk said Smith agreed a game plan needs to be determined in advance of the 2016 census to address a possible similar case.

Statistics Canada will release its April 1, 2014, population estimates on Wednesday.

The Progressive Conservatives say the dispute with Statistics Canada has more to do with provincial government overspending.

The Tories say the year-end results for 2012-13 show the government went $186 million over its original core deficit projection of $504 million.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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