It’s only 2.6 kilometres from the Manitoba Legislature to Winnipeg city hall, but it’s been years since a provincial leader made the short trip. Premier Heather Stefanson did it Wednesday, and her shoulder-to-shoulder presence beside Mayor Brian Bowman bodes well for a new spirit of co-operation between the two levels of government.
If city hall staff seemed unaccustomed to welcoming a premier, it’s likely because relations between the mayor and past premier Brian Pallister were as frosty as the windshield of a vehicle left outdoors on a Winnipeg winter night. Meetings between the two Brians were rare, even though their respective governments were entwined in several significant issues crucial to the effective governance of both Winnipeg and Manitoba.
It didn’t take long for Ms. Stefanson, who became premier on Nov. 2, to show she is more open to collaboration than her predecessor. She and Mr. Bowman had a sociable meeting soon after her election as Progressive Conservative leader and, on Wednesday, they got down to business.
At a press conference at city hall, they jointly announced the province has agreed to sign off on two key proposals that had stalled under the recalcitrant rule of Mr. Pallister.
The province’s consent was necessary to apply for $201 million in federal funds toward an upgrade of the North End sewage-treatment centre. The city needed a commitment for the province’s financial portion of the proposed tri-government funding of the project, and also required the province to access the federal funds because applications for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program must be sent to Ottawa by the province.
The city had warned earlier this month the Dec. 31 deadline was quickly approaching for the province to apply for the federal funding. With such a large sum at stake, it might reasonably be assumed elected leaders would never miss the deadline for application but, unfortunately, it has happened before.
In 2017, a missed deadline by the city ended a chance to recover $20 million in a lawsuit related to the construction of Winnipeg’s water-treatment plant in the RM of Springfield. There was a six-year time frame to sue the contractors, but the lawsuit couldn’t proceed because the deadline was missed by a city lawyer, who was later dismissed.
Many details of the sewage-plant funding application are different from that costly misstep, but both share an imperative: to get the money, the deadline must be met.
Her joint press conference with Mr. Bowman also saw a second example of the get–it–done attitude that seems to be driving Ms. Stefanson’s inaugural weeks in the big chair.
Mr. Pallister’s apparent reluctance to speed the application to Ottawa — a reluctance seemingly with roots as deep as foundational political views — was disagreement about private operation and maintenance of the north Winnipeg plant. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its political bent, Mr. Pallister’s administration had for months favoured private involvement in some aspects of the sewage-treatment centre. Equally unsurprisingly, unions spoke out against private operations, citing possible layoffs and safety risks.
It remains to be seen what balance between private and public operations will eventually be reached, but first things first. Ms. Stefanson committed Wednesday to submitting the application on time.
Her joint press conference with Mr. Bowman also saw a second example of the get-it-done attitude that seems to be driving Ms. Stefanson’s inaugural weeks in the big chair. She said the province will support an application to fund the first steps of the Winnipeg Transit Master Plan, which involves 110 zero-emission buses, a bus radio system and design of a rapid-transit downtown corridor.
Manitoba’s new premier has continually promised a new spirit of co-operation. Wednesday’s trip to city hall is an encouraging sign she intends to deliver on that pledge.