“This is a big commitment that was identified by everybody in the region and we’re working with industry to take it to a level that meets everybody’s needs.”
— Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger
Manitoba’s premier came to Brandon yesterday bearing a $30-million gift for Westman’s oil industry, a welcome addition by all accounts.
The cash will fund provincial road repairs and upgrades to many of the rural roadways used by those in the oil industry as they go about their business moving oil and equipment from site to site.
The projects that are either underway or will begin in 2014-15 range from resurfacing with chip seals and asphalt pavement to rehabilitating or replacing bridges and culverts.
Much of the cash in Selinger’s announcement, which he made during his State of the Province speech to members of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce yesterday, will go toward road improvements to Highway 256.
The $30 million is part of the $5.5 billion previously announced by the province for infrastructure repairs across the province.
Petroleum and mineral production in Manitoba is worth roughly $3 billion to our province, and it makes good sense for the province to invest in a sector that continues to expand on the west side of the province.
And it’s not like industry stalwarts and area communities haven’t been trying to get the government’s attention.
But we also note that the cash announced yesterday is still only a drop in the bucket of what will be required by industry to enhance road infrastructure to the standards it requires.
Last month, Tundra Oil and Gas CEO Dan MacLean said Highway 256 is paramount to the industry’s continued growth. He went so far as to call the highway, which runs north and south near the Saskatchewan border, the “lifeblood” of moving oil into the Cromer area, where it can be transported east by rail or pipeline.
He also suggested it would cost $24 million to turn a stretch of the road into an “all-weather” highway.
At the time, Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation cabinet press secretary Jean-Marc Prevost noted the NDP government unveiled the Commercial Infrastructure Fund in 2013, which allows private companies to prioritize vital economic highways.
“We would welcome them to apply for this cost-shared program, which could bump this highway to construction within two years,” Prevost said.
On this page, we joined the chorus of municipal leaders and industry leaders in calling for the province to continue investment in local infrastructure, in order to help sustain the growth in the small but healthy Manitoba oil industry. And we are pleased to see the province is listening.
But certainly $30 million won’t cut it.
In the Sun’s editorial board meeting with the premier yesterday, following the chamber luncheon, we pressed him on this issue, asking whether this cash infusion will be enough to turn Highway 256 into an all-weather road.
He didn’t give us a “yes” answer, but instead said the province wasn’t finished making announcements.
“You will see a future announcement on that, and I think you will see it will meet the standards that everybody is looking for,” Selinger said. “This is a part of it, but there may be some additional part of it as well.”
He also said this will happen “soon.”
Exactly what this pending announcement will entail remains uncertain — perhaps private industry such as Tundra took the province up on its offer under the Commercial Infrastructure Fund. We’ll see.
Nevertheless, it appears the province has listened. And that’s good news for Westman.