More than 700 municipal leaders gathered — some for the last time — to listen to Municipal Government Minister Stan Struthers during Day 1 of the Municipal Officials Seminar in Brandon on Wednesday.
In a 30-minute speech, which felt more like a lead-up to the next provincial election, Struthers touched on a range of issues, including the PST hike, infrastructure spending and amalgamation.
The longtime minister said the government has to think "strategically" and "economically" about how the additional provincial sales tax revenue is used to curb the infrastructure deficit.
The days of throwing money in the air and seeing how many potholes in the road are filled are over, he said.
"It wasn’t the easiest decision to raise the PST," Struthers said, "but we’re going to make it work for Manitobans."
For approximately 25 per cent of the municipal leaders in the room, it will be the last such seminar they officially take part in.
Forced amalgamations will result in the elimination of at least 46 municipalities.
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities unsuccessfully challenged the amalgamation legislation in court. Nonetheless, Struthers was asked one final time to show how it will benefit rural municipalities with populations under 1,000.
The minister said the legislation will give municipalities a better chance to capitalize on economic opportunities.
And he doesn’t expect any municipalities under the threshold will go rogue and continue to fight the mergers.
"It looks to me that we won’t have a situation where someone doesn’t come to an agreement," Struthers said. "We’re very close, even on the tough ones that are left."
Jobs and the economy dominated the speech, including how the province must work with municipalities and the federal government to take advantage of the Building Canada Fund.
"We still have more projects to do than we have money," Struthers said. "Even when you increase the PST by one cent on the dollar, and lever federal and municipal money together with our money, there are still a lot of demands out there and we have to be smart about where we invest this money."
Shoal Lake Mayor Don Yanick said it seems unfair to talk about the investment the government is making in rural Manitoba when his community and several others are losing their Manitoba Hydro offices.
"We’ve already had two families move out of our community," Yanick said. "And we will never have another Hydro employee move to Shoal Lake.
"We’re being treated like third-class citizens."
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