Monday, May 20, 2024

Canada Water Agency to Be Located in Cityplace

There are times when Winnipeg gets the booby prize in federal spending because we were denied other projects. Case in point when Bristol Aerospace was the chosen company for the billion dollar maintenance contract for the CF-18s but was denied when Brian Mulroney re-directed to Quebec, Winnipeg got the booby prizes of the Microbiology Lab and the Institute for Sustainable Development. Why two things? Well, it is because it took a full 10 years to design and build the $172 million facility between 1987 and 1997. Mulroney was long since retired from politics by then. However, in 1987, he was under all sorts of pressure from his caucus and the electorate for pulling a Lucy with the Football move on the west. Anger was raw. The PM knew that he needed more than a future project to assuage the anger so he announced the Institute for Sustainable Development in 1988 which was able to get underway in 1990 while he was still leader. Jake Epp led the charge for some sort of booby prize for Manitoba when he was Mulroney's Health minister.

Losing a $1 billion contract based on Mulroney's decision cost the Progressive Conservatives the election and divided the party for decades. However, the booby prize has been two federal institutions with annual budgets of about $120 combined. Not all of it in Winnipeg but a great deal of it is. Is that better than the CF-18 contract and the subsequent contracts that went to Quebec and elsewhere after that? I don't know. All told since the 1980s, there has been nearly $3 billion on maintenance on the planes. It still means more money spent on the military than on health and environment.

After the merger of the branches of the military in 1968 and with James Richardson as Defence Minister, Winnipeg got the booby prize of Air Command HQ in 1975. The downsizing in the military was substantial in the years prior. Churchill, Gimli and Portage la Prairie were closed or downsized. Richardson ensured a command center was firmly in place in Winnipeg so today the 1 Canadian Air Division with 600 HQ staff and NORAD responsibilities is as strong as ever.

Sometimes the booby prize is all you get when something is taken away. Or in some cases, it is given out when a number of expensive decisions are made on other policy matters. In 1970, the metric system was adopted in Canada and the official languages policy came into effect. Once again, James Richardson as Supply and Service minister (before he became Defence minister), steered the Royal Canadian Mint to Winnipeg. It became apparent that Ottawa was at capacity and worse, buying material from the U.S. including coins. Alberta was thought to be a better supplier and Winnipeg a better manufacturer. However, a large part of the mint's move came from a rapid growth of departments in Ottawa that did not go unnoticed in other parts of the country.

In later years, it was Lloyd Axworthy taking over the role that Richardson used to have. This time the booby prize was the Core Area Initiative, The Forks and Portage Place. I say booby prize because the federal government had been pouring money into Montreal and Toronto as well as Vancouver. The redevelopment of rail and port lands in the aforementioned cities resulted in money for conventions centres, arenas, stadiums and enormous developments. Meanwhile, Winnipeg paid for its own convention centre and arena without the federal help that seemed to flow to several regions other than ours.

One of the balancing features of Canada's federal cabinet has been at least one strong representative at the inner cabinet. Manitoba has had a strong Liberal or Conservative cabinet member for decades. The last one for Manitoba was Jim Carr who has since passed. There really has not a powerful presence for the inner cabinet from Manitoba in a number of years. Dan Vandal is the only Manitoban at the cabinet and handles prairie economic development and northern affairs. In a nearly 40 member cabinet, it means there are a lot of people fighting for budget and our representative doesn't have the senior ministry to make things happen that Finance, Health, Defence and others areas might otherwise have.

Four Liberal MPs make up the caucus from Manitoba. The rest of the ten MPs are split between Conservative and NDP. Dan Vandal has had Kevin Lamoureux, Terry Duguid and rookie Ben Carr pushing to get projects for Manitoba. If, as an MP, you can't be in cabinet, the next best thing is to be a Parliamentary Secretary. Terry Duguid is the prime minister's special water adviser and parliamentary secretary.  Kevin Lamoureux is parliamentary secretary to the Government House Leader. Being close to power and because of the loss of other projects (such as the lithium processing plant) means Manitoba was set for yet another booby prize.

As mentioned, Duguid is the water adviser and because of past cuts during the Harper government to lake research, Winnipeg became the chosen place for the new Canada Water Agency. The chosen place for the offices will be Cityplace where Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation has offices. Perhaps 100 of the nearly 215 staff will be in the office, assuming they are not working from home. This has been a federal issue all this year with many employees seeking to make permanent working from home.

Downtown supporters are chuffed by the new federal workers downtown and the new agency has a lot of work ahead  so looks to be around a while. It certainly is a central location and if indeed more workers are returning to downtown it should provide more vitality to the area. It has been a painful process of worker return. Some places such as the virology lab don't lend themselves to working from home but so many other workplaces have workers who believe that work from home is permanent.

As a start up, the Canada Water Agency might have most workers in the office so that should be a good thing. Once again a booby prize may prove to be a lasting thing in Manitoba. It is good to keep in mind that booby prizes usually come after so many other projects got cancelled, re-directed or never got out of the planning stages. 

Winnipeg's greatest strength is the diversity of its economic base. It is industry, government, culture and agriculture. All of it contributing to the vitality. The weakness of the city is how spread out it is, it's dependency on cars, poverty and addiction and most of all crime. In 2019, the city was in much better shape than it is now in part because there were predictable patterns of commuter travel. Things are slowly improving and more efforts are being made to fill empty buildings with residential conversions. The booby prize of getting a new federal agency is that those employees will become denizens of the city and that a filled building of workers can support a whole lot of other businesses in that area.

Welcome to the new workers.

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