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Manitoba's cut to youth summer job program leaves some groups scrambling

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government said it was open to discussions Tuesday after facing criticism for cutting support to a major summer job program.

Ian Bushie, Minister of Municipal and Northern Relations, and Minister of Indigenous Economic Development is sworn-in by Lt. Gov. Anita Neville at a Premier and cabinet swearing-in ceremony in Winnipeg, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government said it was open to discussions Tuesday after facing criticism for cutting support to a major summer job program.

The NDP government, elected in October, has reduced funding to the Green Team program this year by $4 million, to $5.6 million. The program helps non-profits, municipalities and sports organizations hire teens and young adults.

Some groups were caught off guard when their annual applications were rejected this spring after years of being approved.

"Obviously, we're just quite disappointed," said Jason Miller, executive director with Baseball Manitoba.

Community baseball associations in many parts of the province have been rejected for the first time in a long time, and no explanation was provided, he said. Students are often hired to maintain ball diamonds, cut outfield grass and more.

As a result of the cut, baseball associations may have to chose between letting some maintenance work slide, asking parents to volunteer to maintain the parks, or spend more money and raise fees for players next year to recoup it, Miller said.

Officials at the Prairie Mountain Regional Museum, a small facility that relies primarily on volunteers in western Manitoba, were also surprised when their request for funding was turned down this year.

"We've had Green Team students for at least the last three or four years," said museum president Don Yanick.

The museum asked for funding for two students this year to help with tasks such as cutting grass and working in gardens. It received a letter of rejection with no explanation, Yanick said.

The letter came with a number to call. Yanick said he left a message but had not heard back.

Ian Bushie, the minister of municipal and northern relations, said the former Tory government boosted Green Team spending during the COVID-19 pandemic and, even with the reduction, spending will still be above pre-pandemic levels.

He also said the government has to save money because of the province's ongoing deficits.

"The previous government just failed to scale back pandemic spending, so it was significant for us in that we have a very significant financial challenge," Bushie said.

The government has met with some of the affected groups. Bushie hinted that the government may find ways outside of the Green Team program to offer more support, but he offered no specifics or guarantees.

"A lot of folks across Manitoba are very keen to have that conversation (about) how we can best support them. And we're willing to do that as well," he said.

"Whether it be a Green Team project or another project, what is significant for us is not having a silo approach to government ... so we're looking across all departments."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2024.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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