The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the rural economic development office in Brandon from operating, provincial Minister of Economic Development and Training Ralph Eichler said Thursday.
That piece of information was one of several provided by Eichler and three of his ministerial colleagues during a Thursday afternoon Zoom meeting with members of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce.
During last year’s provincial election campaign, the rural economic development office was one of the Progressive Conservatives’ key promises to Brandon on their way to winning a second consecutive majority mandate.
Chamber vice-president Spencer Day brought up the topic, saying members have wondered over the past several months what the office has been up to since it was opened.
"We know that the board has been formed, and there’s been a few meetings have happened, but we’re left wondering what the next steps are," Day said.
Eichler expressed hope that the office would be able to reopen soon and be part of the effort to reopen parts of Manitoba’s economy during the lessening of public health orders put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
"We did not anticipate — nor did any Manitoban — that we’d be closing our businesses down, and as a result of that our committee got put on hold as well," he said. "We plan on zooming back to that very, very soon."
He also briefly brought up the Premier’s Economic Opportunities Advisory Board that was created last week to provide guidance during the reopening of the economy. Eichler said the first meeting of the board was recently held and praised the work of Westman Communications Group general manager Cam Clark, who is Brandon’s representative on the board.
Brandon businesses wanting to provide input and feedback to the reopening process were encouraged by Eichler to contact his office or reach out to Clark.
After Eichler left the call for another engagement, city councillor and Keystone Centre board member Bruce Luebke (South Central) asked ministers Reg Helwer, Heather Stefanson and Scott Fielding if the province would be willing to provide funding to arenas such as the Keystone to help them run programs like minor hockey and community events, which they typically do at a financial loss.
Helwer, the Minister of Central Services, said his government is looking into that, but the Keystone Centre is also one of several venues that has applied for money from the pre-pandemic Investing in Canada infrastructure plan the province is currently hashing out the details of with the federal government.
"We expect there’ll be some announcements in the pretty near future," Helwer said.
Speaking on the subject of acquiring personal protective equipment for the province, Helwer praised Hutterite colonies and First Nations communities for their help in making masks and gowns.
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