Maple Leaf Foods and its need for greater hog supply was one of the first topics Premier Greg Selinger addressed in his State of the Province speech Thursday.
Selinger said the province will continue to work with the plant to make sure it is one of the "economic motors" for southwestern Manitoba.
"The hog moratorium on unsustainable hog barn expansion has to continue to protect those valuable assets of lakes and rivers and streams in this province," Selinger said. "But within that moratorium … there’s lots of room for opportunities to continue to grow the industry in Manitoba."
As the Brandon Sun reported earlier this week, Maple Leaf Foods is scaling back the number of hours available at the local hog processing plant, currently running at 80 per cent capacity. The biggest reason for the slowdown is Manitoba producers aren’t producing enough hogs to require two full production shifts at the plant, said one employee.
The best solution would be to allow Manitoba producers to expand operations, but the provincial government passed legislation in 2011 that impedes that growth, enforcing a provincewide ban on new hog barn developments unless they’re equipped with an anaerobic digestion system to treat the manure.
"I want to assure you that people are working very hard at water stewardship and agriculture, and the scientific community to make sure that we get … a right balance between the need to protect the environment and our water resources … and at the same time, find a way that we can move forward and make sure that as the industry grows that it’s sustainable and one that we can all be proud of," Selinger said.
Selinger spoke over the lunch hour to Brandon Chamber of Commerce members at a packed luncheon in the Keystone Centre’s UCTPavilion.
He spoke about infrastructure being a top priority, specifically mentioning Highway 10, Victoria Avenue, the First Street bridge and Daly Overpass.
"These projects are important to your community because you have a growing community with a growing population," he said. "We’re going to work very closely with the City of Brandon to ensure those projects get done."
Other topics included flood protection and how the province is aiming for a one-in-300-year standard for Brandon. There are plans to reinforce the dikes along the Assiniboine Valley.
The province needs to plan ahead when it comes to Manitoba Hydro, Selinger said.
"We have an opportunity to build our power before we need it, think ahead, sell it to our export customers, keep our rates low and keep the jobs in Manitoba," he said.
Following the luncheon, Selinger attended an editorial board meeting at the Brandon Sun, where he was asked to expand on some of the topics he touched on in his speech, such as the plans for Brandon’s bridge improvements.
The City of Brandon had listed expanding the Daly Overpass as a top priority due to the traffic congestion it causes going from four lanes down to three. However, last month, the premier announced that First Street bridge needed to be fixed first — pushing back the Daly Overpass.
The First Street bridge was identified two years ago as being in need of major repair, so the Sun asked the premier why this work is only just beginning now.
"My guess would be, after 2011 all the top priorities were restoring infrastructure that had been flood damaged, that was priority No. 1," Selinger said.
The premier confirmed that the First Street bridge will be completed first before the Daly Overpass, but construction isn’t expected to begin on First Street until next year.
"The bottom line is, the engineers tell us what the priorities are and … they thought it was a more pressing priority for safety purposes to get (the First Street bridge) done," he said.
On the topic of getting more hogs to Maple Leaf, Selinger said the province is are working with the Pork Council of Manitoba on a set of regulations that respect the need for sustainable hog barn expansion.
"We want industry to do well, but we want it to be sustainable and I think they want that as well," he said.
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