03/25/2014 02:54 EDT | Updated 05/25/2014 05:59 EDT

Manitoba Opposition says government complaint about census is old

WINNIPEG - The Manitoba government's current battle with Statistics Canada over population numbers is not all that new, it turns out.

Opposition Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister produced news articles Tuesday that show the NDP government complained in 2002 that Statistics Canada had under-counted Manitoba's population by 19,000 people.

The argument bears a striking similarity to the province's current claim that the province's population was undercounted by 18,000 people in the 2011 census — a calculation the province says is costing it $100 million a year in federal transfer payments.

Pallister accused the government of crying poor in order to get federal handouts.

"The NDP needs more money to spend, it's Ottawa fault ... why not come up with a new line? Even panhandlers change their signs once in a while," Pallister said in the legislature.

Finance Minister Jennifer Howard fired back, pointing out that Manitoba was proven right in 2002. Statistics Canada ended up raising the province's population number by 30,000.

"They did some more work, they corrected it," Howard said.

The population determines the amount of federal money each province receives for health care and social programs. It also affects equalization funding given to the poorer provinces.

Statistics Canada normally makes adjustments to its numbers after every census to try to take into account the number of people who were missed.

The difference this time is, the federal agency is standing by its numbers. That has led to a dispute that has dragged on for months, with the Manitoba government demanding a panel be set up to hear its case.

Statistics Canada has said its methodology has been supported by all provinces, including Manitoba. The province's senior federal cabinet minister, Shelly Glover, said the province's complaint has been reviewed and there is no reason to make changes this time.