In two years time, there will be fewer municipalities in Manitoba, Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux told reporters following Monday’s speech from the throne at the Manitoba Legislature.
Lemieux said several of Manitoba’s municipalities do not have the 1,000 population level that is required to trigger funding mechanisms for projects.
"Our initiative is to engage municipalities," Lemieux said. "As you know, approximately half of the 200 municipalities in Manitoba do not meet that 1,000 threshold that was set up by the previous administration when they made changes to the Municipal Act in 1997. We are going to ensure that changes."
While Lemieux said he preferred if municipalities settled those matters on their own by engaging in talks that lead to larger municipalities, the process will be completed by the time voters go to the ballot boxes in 2014 to elect new mayors, reeves and councillors. Those municipalities that have fewer than 1,000 people will obviously be under the gun to merge with others, however Lemieux said he was also open to larger municipalities with populations larger than 1,000 people merging as well. Lemieux said he wanted the process complete by this fall.
"Right now, we are confident that municipalities are going to work together because they can see the benefits of working together both regionally and economically," Lemieux said. "We see this positively going forward. This is going to happen. This is not an if or a maybe. Amalgamations are going to happen in the province of Manitoba."
The amalgamation of municipalities was the most significant aspect of a primarily Winnipeg-centric speech.
"Brandon was mentioned a few times, but like most of the rest of the throne speech, there wasn’t a lot of vision there and that’s what I expect from their throne speech," Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer said. "There was a lot of looking back at the past. We have to prepare Manitobans, if you hear the Premier correctly, (for) more taxes to fuel their spending addictions and more cuts."
One of those cuts came early in the speech, when the government announced its intention to reduce its workforce by 600 people over the next three years.
"This government can’t hit its targets," Helwer said. "The finance minister said last quarter that he was on track and now you hear the Premier say they need some wiggle room. That’s what we’ve come to expect from this government. We really can’t depend on anything they say. They continue to overspend and overtax."
Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell said the throne speech was very mindful of the national and global economic climate.
"It was a very modest speech in terms of new initiatives," Caldwell said. "We’ll find out more about those initiatives in the budget. The references to Brandon in the main (speech) were associated with post-secondary education, the new masters in psych nursing, which is the first program of that nature in Canada. It will be a significant benefit in building its graduate school credentials. That’s very important for the growth of that institution."
Caldwell noted that the new Brandon University Healthy Living Centre and the new greenhouse at Assiniboine Community College’s north campus are at or nearing completion.
"We wanted to mention the college and the university in Brandon because we have a major initiative that we are continuing to move forward on as the third phase of Assiniboine Community College," Caldwell said. "We wanted to highlight the work that we have already done and the progress we are making on post-secondary education in Brandon and Manitoba."
Helwer could not agree with Caldwell’s assessment on the speech’s modesty regarding new initiatives, and said Brandons throne speech components were reannouncements of previous pledges that had been made before.
"These are all things that were announced before and reannounced and in some cases, already built," Helwer said. "The (Highway 110) bypass has been on the announcements for a long time now and I remember being involved in planning for that 13 years ago. At that time, it was going to cost us $13 million. This government can’t hit its targets."