Manitoba Finance Minister Stan Struthers takes questions from those in attendance at the public provincial budget meeting at the Keystone Centre on Wednesday. (LINDSEY ENNS/BRANDON SUN)
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst discusses some of Brandon’s infrastructure projects with Struthers on Wednesday. (LINDSEY ENNS/BRANDON SUN)
The uncertainty of the global economy’s effect on Canada as well as flood compensation and prevention were hot topics of discussion during provincial Finance Minister Stan Struthers’ Brandon visit yesterday.
"What we’ve heard in Brandon stacks up to what we’ve been hearing across the province," Struthers said. "People understand that we are facing very uncertain economic times, what you see with the global downturn is very much having an impact here in Brandon and the southwest, they want us to do what we can to protect services like health care, education and family services."
As part of a regional series of public meetings being held across the province, Struthers had a chance to hear from Brandon and surrounding area residents at the Keystone Centre, in preparation for the upcoming 2013 provincial budget.
Although the uncertainty of the global economy and its effects on Manitoba might be unknown, Struthers said the government is still hoping to balance the provincial budget by 2016.
"Our approach has been, and I think it was backed up here in Brandon today, is a balanced approach that considers both reasonable increases in revenue but very reasonable reductions in spending as well."
Several community members also addressed the fact that the province needs to start putting preventative measures in place when it comes flooding. Rising flood costs were blamed for a nearly $1-billion deficit last year that resulted in the province paying out $1.025 billion in flood assistance claims — debt that is sure to carry to this year’s budget.
"The flood continues to have an impact on our budgeting even with this budget we will see that," Struthers confirmed. "We’re hoping that the federal government will come through with its obligations, they haven’t as of yet, we’ll continue to work with them on that."
Public accounts for 2011-12 show that Manitoba’s deficit was $999 million after costs associated with the flood were finalized, which was an increase of $561 million over the $438 million estimated for the 2011 budget. But due to the diversity of Manitoba’s economy, the province’s economic growth continues to stabilize, Struthers said.
"We need to continue to make good financial decisions when it comes to the factors that we have control over," he said. "We need to keep our interest rate down by being stable and making good fiscal decisions."
Manitoba’s second quarter financial report for 2012-13 projects a deficit of $567 million this year, which is a $432-million increase from last year, but is $107 million more than what was budgeted due to cost pressures in family services, public safety and fighting forest fires.
Amalgamating municipalities as a way of easing some of the pressure off taxpayers was also something that the province is considering, Struthers said.
"There are 196 municipalities in Manitoba, that’s a lot, but we’ve got a number of 90 or 92 who are under 1,000 and a number of municipalities that just aren’t sustainable anymore," he said. "We have to do something with that, we can’t have the tax dollars of Manitobans going towards those kinds of costs, we have to find more streamlined ways of organizing them."
Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst also had the opportunity to discuss some of the infrastructure projects Brandon is hoping to collect funding dollars for.
"I think we have a nice portfolio of projects I just need some certainty on what to put forward," Decter Hirst said. "We’re still not getting any information on what the criteria’s going to be, when it’s going to be announced, when they’re expecting projects to come in and so again we’ve got a couple of good projects in the bottom drawer waiting and I need to know when to open the drawer and pull them out."
Decter Hirst said some of the criteria the province is looking for when it comes to local infrastructure projects include the effect the projects will have beyond the community, but until the city receives more information, they are continuing to work with the province.
"I think that we’ve got a good partnership with the province on a lot of our infrastructure projects so I think we’ll just continue to work co-operatively together."
Those that were unable to attend the public consultation can share their views by writing to Budget Consultations, Room 103, 450 Broadway, Winnipeg, MB R3C 0V8 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Struthers will unveil Manitoba’s 2013 budget in the spring.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition January 31, 2013