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Civic deficit a mythical beast reporters can slay- if they dare

Magicians of yore would invoke spirits with the incantation 'Abra Cadabra', and--poof--- a rabbit would emerge from an empty hat or a comely assistant would vanish, only to reappear seconds later behind a velvet curtain.

Nowadays, to make bags of money appear out of nowhere, tawdry politicians chant 'Infrastructure Deficit.' And the public yawns. For they know the trick too well, and it always ends the same way, with the only thing disappearing being the money in their pockets.

The Great (in girth) Russ-o and Magic Sam the Magic Mayor have already intoned the magic words and Wednesday they will unleash an imaginary dragon at Executive Policy Committee, allegedly to shame senior governments with money into giving lots of it to Winnipeg.

The monster is named Seven Point-Four Billion, which, they say, is what Winnipeg needs to spend over the next 10 years just to replace the streets crumbling under our feet and the bridges falling down on our heads.

Oh, woe, cries Mayor Magic Sam Katz. Oh, horrors, harmonizes The Great Russ Wyatt, his Secretary of Infrastructure Renewal.

On Wednesday they will bring with them a hefty report prepared by the city's public service explaining the decade of decay awaiting Winnipeg without scads of cash from Doer the Magnificent Dipper or The Illustrious Stevo, P.M. extraordinaire.

It will be a fine show, you can be sure---unless the assembled reporters utter their own magic words: "Prove it."

For, it seems, the infrastructure deficit dragon has made several notable appearances before---in various shapes and sizes.

Only last April, Scott Fielding, councillor for St. James-Brooklands, was rejoicing at news the federal government had doubled the gas tax revenue to municipalities

“The City of Winnipeg has over a $3 billion deficit and this new money will certainly help to upgrade and fix our crumbling roads, sidewalks and sewer and water systems," he sang.

Amazing how the dragon has more than doubled in size in two months. But its growth didn't pass completely unnoticed.

A Winnipeg Free Press editorial on June 1, 2009, praised David Asper's plan for raising taxes with a reference to the infrastructure hole that needed to be filled.

Now walk the walk, Mr. Asper
By: Editorial 1/6/2009 1:00 AM

A report to the city earlier this year on its infrastructure deficit showed that the $2.1 billion Winnipeg plans to spend in the next six years to fill potholes and truss up bridges is less than half of what's needed. The infrastructure deficit sits at about $4.5 billion.

So it's ballooned 60 percent in a single month?

Of course in his State of the City address in January, 2009, Magic Sam the Magic Mayor saw the deficit dragon as a lot smaller

"We are playing a game of infrastructure 'catch-up'. But repairing our aging infrastructure remains a top priority.
The cost of inflation on construction materials has skyrocketed and some projects - like the Chief Peguis Trail extention or the Disraeli Freeway, are adding to a 2.8 billion dollar infrastructure deficit each second they are not getting done."

Tripled in six months. Yikes.

It was only two months earlier, at the beginning of November, 2008, that Mayor Sam announced he was making Russ Wyatt his extra special secretary of strategic infrastructure renewal.

As reported in the Winnipeg Free Press at the time:

"Katz says Wyatt is now responsible for finding ways to eliminate Winnipeg's infrastructure deficit, which has ballooned to somewhere between $2 billion and $3 billion, according to city estimates."

Wasn't it only five years ago that the Association of Manitoba Municipalities appeared before the federal standing committee on finance to say the infrastructure deficit for the entire province was pegged at $7.4 billion? With Winnipeg's share at a measley $1 billion?

My, my. How time flies and dragons grow.

Will a single reporter on Wednesday ask "Which deficit? $1 billion or $2 billion? $3 billion or $4.5 billion?"

All 'official' public service numbers that have been rolled out for public consumption.

The Winnipeg Free Press can devote a dozen pages to listing who ran in the Manitoba Marathon and their finish times. Surely they can devote a few to detailing exactly what this magic deficit is composed of, street by street, bridge by bridge, sewer by sewer.

The information is at the administration's fingertips, since they had to have it to add up to $7.4 billion, didn't they. Why shouldn't it be made public?

Of course, we all know that all magic tricks depend ultimately on misdirection. So when we look closely at the trick announced in a news release, what do we find?

Infrastructure deficit expected to balloon to $7.4 billion
Current funding formula will see shortfall escalate over next decade

Winnipeg, July 3rd, 2009 - Committed to ensuring that repairing our crumbling roads and bridges remains a top priority for all levels of government, the Secretary of Strategic Infrastructure Renewal will provide reports to Executive Policy Committee that show a total funding shortfall of $7.4 billion dollars to achieve an appropriate level of condition.
“With every passing day, our roads and bridges are falling into a further state of disrepair,” said Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz. “Our public service has confirmed what we’ve always known - that the current level of funding is simply not an option if Winnipeg is expected to make serious strides to long term sustainability of its existing and new infrastructure priorities.”

How can new infrastructure be part of a deficit? It hasn't been built yet.

And why are we adding new infrastructure when we can't maintain the old? Does that make any sense?

If we can't repair the old fast enough before it falls apart completely, we certainly can't maintain the new, so it too will soon fall apart. Then it will become part of the deficit, eradicating all efforts to cut the deficit down. Does that make any sense?

Will any reporter ask?

Or will they be too busy going "Oooh, a rabbit. Cool."

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