Manitoba government cuts some environmental funding amid coronavirus

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says his government is cutting funding for several environmental groups this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

The Manitoba government will boost infrastructure spending and cut funding to some environmental groups as part of its plan to deal with the fiscal fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Green Action Centre, a Winnipeg-based non-profit that promotes recycling, composting and other activities, has received a letter from the province that says annual funding to the group worth $200,000 is being suspended this year.

“This … will directly impact our ability to maintain our sustainable transportation and waste reduction programming and activities that Manitobans depend on,” executive director Tracy Hucul wrote in an email to supporters Thursday.

Premier Brian Pallister said his Progressive Conservative government is suspending funding to a small number of environmental groups to free up money for health care and the battle against the pandemic.

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“The fact of the matter is, all of us are in this together, and that includes advocacy groups,” Pallister said.

The government said nine groups had requested and were denied funding this year, including the Green Action Centre and two others that received a total of $360,000 last year.

Hucul said her group does much more than advocacy. The centre helps schools and other institutions set up composting programs and educates people about carbon-free transportation such as cycling, she said.

The Opposition New Democrats said Pallister should reverse the cut.

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“A real leader should think about more than one crisis at a time, and that starts with funding the organizations that push our government to protect our environment,” environment critic Lisa Naylor said in a statement.

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Pallister announced Thursday an infrastructure plan he said will help the economy recover more strongly from the pandemic.

The province intends to spend an extra $500 million over the next two years on roads, bridges, and water and sewer projects — in addition to $3 billion already planned.

Pallister also said Manitoba will take part in a wage top-up announced by the federal government.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Feds will spend up to $3 billion to top up the wages of essential workers

The $4-billion, cost-shared program is to boost what essential workers across the country get paid during the pandemic.

“We advanced the concept in discussion with the federal government, I think more than three weeks ago,” Pallister said.

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Details of Manitoba’s plan, including which workers will qualify, are to be revealed next week.

Pallister’s government has said the pandemic could result in a $5-billion provincial deficit this year, due to increased health spending and lower tax revenues from a sluggish economy.

Last week, the Royal Bank of Canada forecast a much lower figure of $1.5 billion.

Pallister said he would welcome a lower number, but it’s too early for anyone to make a prediction.

“I hope they’re right, and I would say they’re working in the dark and so are we, because we’re in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic,” he said.

“As we review our numbers and as we experience the reality of this pandemic instead of the theory of it, we’ll be able to give you better numbers.”

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Heath officials reported no new COVID-19 cases in the province, continuing a trend of zero or single-digit daily increases.

With more people recovering, the number of active cases has dropped to 33. There have been 283 confirmed or probable cases to date, including seven deaths.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Manitoba announces $45-million financial support program for seniors

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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