POLITICS

Manitoba erects road signs even when work isn't being done

11/23/2014 04:00 EST | Updated 01/23/2015 05:59 EST
WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government has a policy that allows signs touting its economic agenda to be erected at construction sites long before work begins and to be left up over the winter lull, The Canadian Press has learned.

The signs, which spell out Steady Growth, Good Jobs in large letters and mention the type of work in smaller print, have sprouted up across the province after last year's increase in the provincial sales tax — part of a plan to show Manitobans that the money is being used for infrastructure work.

The rules governing where and when the signs can be put up contain a lot of latitude.

"Signs are normally installed as soon as possible after contracts are awarded," reads a response from the Infrastructure and Transportation Department to a freedom-of-information request for all rules governing signage placement and timing.

"At the discretion of the regional director, signs for major projects may be installed following fall or spring program announcements, even though it may be several months before construction is expected to commence.

"Signs on multi-year projects may stay up over winter, at the discretion of the regional director, even on those jobs where there is no active work progress."

Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton said the sign campaign is no different than those in other jurisdictions, including the federal government's Canada's Economic Action Plan brand.

"I think one of the key messages here is that this is your tax dollars at work. And that's, again, a standard thing across the country."

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives say the Steady Growth signs are NDP propaganda, paid for by taxpayers. The signs do not offer details such as the construction project's cost or time frame, and only mention in general the type of work being done, such as public housing renovations or road repair.

"These are signs for promoting the government ... and they're a colossal waste of money," Tory Leader Brian Pallister said.

The government said in August the sign program's cost had reached $150,000. Ashton said the signs are a fair way to show Manitobans their tax money is well-spent, given the tax hike and the promise to boost road repair.

"There might even be a record number of signs, but there's a record number of projects."

The Alberta government recently backtracked from a similar Building Alberta construction project campaign. Those signs included the name of former premier Alison Redford, who resigned amid a scandal over lavish expenses.

Her replacement, Jim Prentice, said in September he would not erect any more such signs. He also said he would look at changing existing signs to remove politicians' names and add details about each project.