Province won't let City of Thompson access funds to help mining communities, mayor says

Province won't let City of Thompson access funds to help mining communities, mayor says

Thompson's mayor accuses the province withholding funds intended to help mining communities cope with an economics crisis.

The city will lose almost half of its mining jobs this year, as Vale cuts 700 positions. The mining company is also decreasing its voluntary tax contributions to the city.

Mayor Dennis Fenske wants to use $3 million from the Mining Community Reserve Fund to offset losses to city revenues. The province refused, first claiming there's no money available, then saying Thompson doesn't have a long-term plan for the money, Fenske said.

"It's been extremely frustrating. The messaging that we're getting through various circles are mixed. And I'm a straight shooter. I'm very passionate about the north. I'm very passionate about Thompson," Fenske said.

The fund was set up in the 1990s and is funded by a portion of the taxes mining companies pay to the province. Money from the fund can be used to help pay for mining exploration, as well as economic development in mining communities affected by a mine closure or reduction.

The disagreement between the City of Thompson and the province centres around their differing interpretations of the legislation that set up the fund. The province argues that the fund cannot go below $10 million, while Fenske says the law allows for reductions below the $10-million mark, as long as the fund is replenished the following year.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew introduced a document showing the fund had $12.2 million in it as of February 2018.

"The $10-million limit that this government has cited as an excuse for why they can't come to this community of Thompson's aid, it only applies to payments for exploration projects, not to communities that are losing jobs," Kinew said.

Fenske said Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Blaine Pedersen has given shifting explanations about why they can't access funds, first telling him that there were insufficient funds, then telling local media that the city didn't have a long-term plan.

"From our perspective it's very frustrating to hear different stories and to have this issue politicized," he said.

Fenske said he has requested a meeting with Pedersen and Thompson MLA Kelly Bindle, but so far those requests have been rebuffed.

In a statement, Pedersen blamed the previous NDP government for not preparing northern communities for the challenges they are now facing.

"According to legislation, to ensure sustainability the MCRF can only be used if its balance remains above $10 million. Our message to northern Manitobans is we are here to work with you to build a stronger economy and a brighter future."

Fenske will be in Winnipeg later this month and hopes to meet with government officials in an effort to change their minds.