11/18/2013 05:16 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Manitoba premier says infrastructure spending will 'take a while' to get moving

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said Monday he can balance the budget and undertake a record $5.5-billion infrastructure program in part because most of the projects will not kick in right away.

"That will roll out and ramp up as we go along. It's going to take a while to get it fully moving," Selinger said.

There are "lots of things" such as environmental licences that may be needed before some projects proceed, he added.

Selinger's five-year infrastructure plan announced last week comes as the NDP government is trying to keep a lid on spending so it can balance the budget by the 2016-17 fiscal year. The budget outlook calls for spending above current levels — across all government departments and including public-sector wage increases — to total $1.5 billion over three years.

Selinger also reiterated what Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton revealed last week — that some of the $5.5 billion is expected to come from other levels of government. The federal government, for example, pays for up to half the cost of projects that qualify for its Building Canada fund.

"Some of that may be recoverable ... but it won't be the largest part of it by any means."

Opposition Leader Brian Pallister accused Selinger in question period of fudging the numbers and demanded to know how much the province is counting on Ottawa and municipalities.

"It's coming from ... three governments. This government wants all the credit. So I have to ask the premier, how much — really, really — is coming from the provincial government?" asked the Progressive Conservative leader.

Selinger did not provide a number. He later said funding details have yet to be worked out, because they can vary from project to project.

Selinger also said he is still planning to balance the budget by 2016-17, although the words used recently by Selinger and Finance Minister Jennifer Howard focus more on a plan than an iron-clad commitment.

Howard said last month the New Democrats were "going to do our best to live up to that commitment."

Selinger talked Monday of the expectation of balanced books.

"Our expectation is to balance the budget in '16-'17. That's the expectation we put out there. We are going to do infrastructure and grow the economy at the same time."

"It's part of our plan to meet our expectation to balance the budget in '16-'17."