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Selinger certain census snafu can be resolved

Province stands to lose $500M

Premier Greg Selinger says Manitoba can't afford to lose $500 million in transfer payments because of a miscalculation.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Premier Greg Selinger says Manitoba can't afford to lose $500 million in transfer payments because of a miscalculation.

A disagreement between the province and Statistics Canada over 18,000 Manitobans missing from the 2011 census can be resolved, Premier Greg Selinger said Tuesday.

"I remain optimistic that we can find a resolution to this," Selinger said, adding the error is unique to Manitoba.

"Those (18,000) people are still here," he said. "Our payroll numbers show that there are many more people working in Manitoba now. We've got more kids signing up for schools. We've got more people living in our communities."

Selinger and Finance Minister Jennifer Howard say the discrepancy will cost the province more than $500 million in federal transfer payments during the next five years. Transfer payments are based on provincial population.

It also means the NDP's plan to wipe out the deficit by 2016-17 is at risk because of lower-than-expected federal health, social and equalization payments.

"It's clearly been made much more difficult now because of this StatsCan population under count," Selinger said.

The province says people weren't counted because of flooding that spring.

Selinger said the province will see $37 million clawed back by Ottawa in the current fiscal year and a loss of an estimated $100 million in each of the next five years. "It's a very significant amount of money for us. "One-hundred-million dollars is about 1,400 nurses."

Manitoba questioned the count earlier this year, arguing Statistics Canada underestimated the number of people missed in the 2011 census, the province's chief statistician Wilf Falk said.

The province wants Statistics Canada to re-examine the matter, but the federal agency is sticking by its numbers.

"We did a comprehensive review," said Jane Badets, the agency's director general of demographic and social statistics. "We looked at all of the processes and findings that led to the Manitoba population estimate, and we found no evidence of any error in our processes or findings. So we can confirm that the estimate that we have is solid."

Badets also said Manitoba had the third-highest response rate among provinces to the 2011 census.

A later analysis showed the census under reported the population by 21,698 people, so that was added to the census count, bringing the 2011 estimate to 1,230,574.

Badets added the agency's methods are applied uniformly to all provinces.

Selinger said he's spoken to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in an attempt to get the number corrected.

"When they understand the full detail of the StatsCan underestimate of 18,000 people, there will be a correction," he said. "Our data show that they're here."

Tory Leader Brian Pallister said the 2011 census figures have been out for months, but the NDP waited to raise the issue. "This is a provincial government -- the only provincial government -- that has a dispute over the ability of the federal government to count people. Nine others don't," he said.

"If there's a genuine, legitimate concern it could have been raised months ago. This is a case of government addicted to spending looking to blame the federal government or anybody else it can find for its spending addiction, yet again."

 

-- with files from Larry Kusch

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Wednesday, December 18, 2013 at 6:43 AM CST:
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