The Liberals are not ignoring the Pallister government’s choice of infrastructure projects. No one can argue against the St. Mary’s Road interchange.
However, an upgrade to provide safety at an intersection between MacGregor and Portage, the junction of Hwy 16 and the TransCanada Highway has proved dangerous, but the Liberals point out it happens to be flanked by property owned by the Pallister family:
On a day the Pallister government announced Phase 2 of safety review of the Perimeter Highway, Manitoba Liberals are questioning the Pallister Government’s decision to fund a multi-million-dollar roundabout that could require the pay the Premier’s brother, nephew and donors to be built.
On July 16, 2020, Pallister announced $65-million in spending from the Manitoba Government’s $500-million Covid-19 “restart program” for major highway projects, including:
- PTH 100 and St. Mary’s Road interchange, which has the worst collision rate in the province.
- The roundabout at Hwy 1 and the Yellowhead (Hwy 16)
Maps from the RM of Portage la Prairie show that the properties next to the intersection are owned by Jim Pallister, the Premier’s brother; Bryce Pallister, the Premier’s nephew, and by Faurschou farms, who are long-time donors to Pallister and the PCs going back to the 1990s.
Even at the announcement, reports mentioned that Pallister’s brother farmed “nearby” and the Premier said he would recuse himself from any negotiations about expropriating the farm, telling reporters, “I’ve never failed to recuse myself when there’s been an issue of personal or family interest involved, so I would certainly be recusing myself.”
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont says Pallister needs to explain how a project next to his family farm ended up being selected over much more dangerous intersections - especially when the province is sitting on over $1-billion in untouched federal infrastructure funds.
“Municipalities across Manitoba have been waiting for more than a year to get their projects approved, but one of the first and only projects the Premier picks is one where his family could be getting provincial buyouts,” said Lamont. “If Pallister wanted to recuse himself, the time to do it was before announcing a multi-million dollar Covid-19 project that could force the province to cut a cheque to his family.”
At the time, Pallister said of the intersection at the Yellowhead and Hwy 1, “It remains one of the more dangerous intersections in our province.” “More” - not “most”. There are multiple intersections across the province that have more collisions than the Hwy 16 and the Transcanada - including multiple intersections on Winnipeg’s perimeter highway.
Today, Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler announced Phase 2 of safety review of the Perimeter Highway.
MPI and RCMP statistics show there are at least ten intersections in Manitoba with more collisions over a five-year period. The five most dangerous intersections in Manitoba are all on Winnipeg’s perimeter highway, and have from two and a half to five times as many collisions as the intersection of the TransCanada and the Yellowhead.
Lamont acknowledged there have been more fatal collisions on highways in recent years, and that commercial truck traffic collisions were fatal more than other traffic.
However, an Auditor General’s Report from December 2019 showed that was a direct result the Manitoba Government and the Department of Infrastructure’s safety inspections, staffing, and assessment were all weak.
The report found that inspection stations on the TransCanada allowed up to 67% of trucks pass uninspected, farm trucks required no safety. Unsafe operators could rebrand as “chameleon” operators and keep operating under a different name. Incredibly, the safety system deducted no points for failing an inspection - which meant that “pass” and “fail” were treated the same.
“It’s the province that picks and chooses what projects go forward, and the PCs are sitting on $1.1-billion in federal infrastructure funds from 2018 federal provincial agreement,” said Lamont. “How is it that one of that in a pandemic, a project involving a possible payout to the Premier’s brother ended up at the top of the heap?”