The Association of Manitoba Municipalities held one of its provincial meetings in Portage la Prairie Thursday. President Kam Blight notes it was their second day, adding it's part of their June District sessions. 

"We've got seven district meetings that we're going to be attending over the next three weeks," explains Blight. "And so, today we're in the city of Portage Prairie for the Central District."

He explains many key topics will come through their resolution process.

"We just finished a one-on-one dialogue, a fireside chat, between myself and Municipal Relations Minister Andrew Smith, where we talked about our four key pillars for municipalities for the upcoming provincial election. It's just great to have that open dialogue with the provincial minister in front of our delegates."

Blight adds there was an opportunity for the delegates to bring forward some of their questions or concerns. 

Minister of Municipal Relations and Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Andrew Smith notes the AMM efforts are vitally important. 

"Municipalities like Portage, as an example, need that support network to advocate on their behalf," says Smith. "Of course, we as a government can talk to municipalities separately, and we do, but there's that central voice that comes out with common themes. You hear that today. You'll hear a number of common themes come out from each municipality saying that crime, healthcare, and all these other issues are common to them. It's good to have one common voice to represent that."

Smith says at the time of the interview he hadn't heard that much, seeing it was at the start of the meeting.

"I want to listen to see what's happening," continues Smith. "During my mingling and talking to other folks during the break session, I'd like to see if there's anything unique to this area. Actually, I do have family that used to live in this area here outside of Portage -- the Ukrainian side of my family. I'm Smith, but there's the family side Shepel that used to farm out in this area. I used to come, growing up, out to Portage la Prairie all the time. I'm very familiar with the area and very familiar with Portage la Prairie. I love to see this community grow and prosper as much as any other community in this province. So, hopefully, we're on the right step here today." 

He notes the summer district meetings are across the entire province. 

"Yesterday, we were up in Gladstone," adds Smith. "Today here in Portage and there's a few over the next -- week and a half. It's a good opportunity for me as the Minister of Municipal Relations to actually get everyone in the same room, from one district in the room -- mayors, reeves, and councillors -- to actually talk to them in person, and not just get emails, phone calls or Zoom calls."

Smith says meeting the delegates in person provides a special experience. 

"As we know during COVID, without the in-person connectivity, communication is more difficult. This is a great way just to connect, sometimes on an informal basis, and say, 'Here's an issue.' At the back of my mind, I know when I'm in the cabinet room when I'm making decisions, signing off different orders or different decisions at the legislature, I know that how and when it will be impacted on the ground."