The following Letter to the Editor, signed by Ivan Normandeau, AMBM President, appeared today in the pages of the newspaper La Liberté, this Wednesday, January 20, 2021:

Madam Editor,

Manitoba’s bilingual municipalities are facing tremendous financial pressures as they have taken proactive and cost-effective measures from the beginning of the pandemic to maintain essential municipal services, including the provision of municipal services in both official languages.

Let’s be clear: municipalities do not have the right to run deficits. This is a state of affairs that has not changed in times of pandemic. We must balance our budgets annually. With increased spending and declining revenues in 2020, Manitoba’s bilingual communities are naturally struggling, directly affecting the vitality and well-being of official language minority communities (OLMCs).

This is the time to think differently and to dare to innovate to find new and more sustainable mechanisms of action. Some investments could already help today to improve and rebuild our economy, such as investing in local infrastructure projects of a sustainable nature.

As it is for the federal and provincial governments, economic recovery is high on the agenda of local governments across Canada. Leading the way to a sustainable economic recovery: increasing investment in infrastructure projects of all types, from digital to community to green infrastructure.

We are talking about digital infrastructure, which enables bilingual communities – most of which are far from urban centres – to connect their citizens to French-language resources, thus putting a brake on the rate of linguistic assimilation. We are also talking about social and community infrastructures – for which we will all have an increased need when our citizens are able to come together again.

Municipal governments own nearly 60% of public infrastructure, which supports the local economy by creating jobs and improving the quality of life for Manitobans. They are all the more important in bilingual communities where this same infrastructure provides our OLMCs with public spaces (face-to-face or virtual) in which the French language can flourish with a local flavour and in consideration of the needs of each community.

Infrastructure forms the foundation of strong and resilient Manitoba communities and must be a priority in any economic recovery strategy. We applaud the efforts of the federal government, which last fall provided $72.6 million to municipalities to maintain essential services. However, we must still ask our governments: What about 2021? What about post-pandemic?

Manitoba’s bilingual municipalities each have infrastructure projects that are ready to go, but are waiting for a funding response to thirteen applications submitted more than 15 months ago under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP). These include the Métis Heritage Centre in St. Laurent, the Recreation Centre in Lorette, and water improvement projects in Somerset and St. Leon, among many others.

After almost a year and a half of waiting, we denounce these unacceptable delays.

Our bilingual municipalities are being proactive in identifying viable and necessary projects that will make a positive contribution to the economic recovery. We are simply asking the same of other levels of government to ensure that our bilingual communities can quickly and safely get their economies back on track in 2021.

The AMBM and its members therefore urge our provincial and federal governments to take action by accelerating the approval process for our critical public infrastructure projects that have been waiting for a green light since well before the pandemic. This will only strengthen the various economic stimulus programs at all levels of government.

Ivan Normandeau
Association of Manitoba Bilingual Municipalities
January 13, 2021

Letter originally published in French.

For more information: Justin Johnson, Chief Executive Officer, 204-289-4077, [email protected].
Defending the foundation of bilingual local communities