TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Jobs and the Economy Minister Theresa Oswald speaks with Tundra Oil and Gas CEO and president Dan MacLean after an infrastructure roundtable at the Keystone Centre on Tuesday.
One of the main messages coming out of a roundtable discussion in Brandon on Tuesday was for the province to be efficient and economically strategic when doling out the $5.5billion in infrastructure funding.
"Efficiency in evaluating tenders and efficiency ... so you can get the most done with the least amount of dollars and hopefully take care of more infrastructure projects," said Todd Birkhan, Brandon Chamber of Commerce vice-president.
Birkhan was one of about 25 people who attended the roundtable discussion at the Keystone Centre — part of a series of meetings being held across the province.
The government is looking for input from various members of society on infrastructure priorities and where they should invest those "precious dollars" over the next five years, according to Jobs and Economy Minister Theresa Oswald.
Other provincial representatives included Municipal Government Minister Stan Struthers, Finance Minister Jennifer Howard and Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer, RM of Cornwallis Reeve Reg Atkinson and RM of Elton Reeve James Boyd were also participating, along with other representatives of business, labour and the construction sector.
"These individuals have given us some really good advice about how we should not only invest in those initiatives that will give a real return back to our economy … but also to make sure that we’re playing close attention to the importance of water, whether it’s flood mitigation or whether it’s water management," Oswald said.
The provincial ministers will now take the advice they have heard and build it into their "prioritization process" for the province’s spring budget.
Infrastructure projects specific to Brandon that were discussed include the Daly Overpass, Highway 10, airport improvements and waste-water treatment.
"The advice here was to be very economically strategic," Struthers said. "And make sure that the money that we’ve collected through the PST increase goes back into those roads that connect us to our markets. No. 10 highway certainly fits the bill on that one."
The recent PST hike, from seven to eight per cent, has been a topic of controversy since it came into effect July 1.
The province has said the hike allows the province to tackle major infrastructure needs without making cuts to health or education.
"Every province is looking for revenue to sit at the table with the federal government and participate in the Building Canada Fund, so we’ll be doing that," Struthers said. "I’ll be sitting down with our federal counterparts to hammer out the kind of projects we’re going to be looking at."
Waste-water treatment and recreation facilities were also on Brandon’s list of priorities.
"We looked at water ... both in terms of too much water and flood mitigation, but also some of the rural concerns around just water distribution," Decter Hirst said.
"We had a bit of a shopping list and I think the ministers heard that very specifically. We also did some really good blue-sky thinking about how we want to invest what is going to be a long-term infrastructure program through the federal government."
Decter Hirst stressed how critical it is for the federal Building Canada Fund announcements to come sooner rather than later.
"We have to get those details soon or we’re going to lose the 2014 construction season," she said.
Roundtable discussions have already been held in Winnipeg and Thompson. Next on the list are Dauphin, Flin Flon and Steinbach.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 11, 2013