Kenney unveils $200M for rural infrastructure
Province says spending will create as many as 1,800 jobs
The provincial government will pour $200 million into upgrades for local bridges, roads, community airports and water supplies in rural communities throughout Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney announced Friday.
The money will flow to small municipalities through grants, creating upwards of 1,800 jobs in those communities, according to the province.
Around $50 million will be delivered through additional funding under the Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Program (STIP), supporting 69 infrastructure projects and 480 jobs.
That’s on top of $60 million allocated for STIP grants in the UCP government’s 2020 budget.
Kenney said this funding would be vital to help kick-start the economy, which has been stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The job-creating investments that we are announcing today will create hundreds of jobs and stimulate economic activity right away,” he told reporters at a news conference.
“I mean, like, immediately. This upcoming week, projects begin.”
The other three-quarters of the funding announced Friday would support 55 water and wastewater improvement projects, creating around 1,300 jobs, according to the province.
Of that, $137 million is allocated to the Alberta Municipal/wastewater Partnership, while $13 million is for the First Nations Water Tie-in Program.
Transportation Minister Ric Mciver said the funding announcement is a direct response to requests from local municipalities, which provided a list of projects critical to their communities.
“These programs are popular with municipalities and are already in place, meaning that we can get the money out the door faster and support projects municipalities need and have already asked for,” he said.
Rural Municipalities of Alberta president Al Kemmere called it a “welcome announcement,” noting bridge funding remains the No. 1 growing deficit among RMA members.
“So this goes a long ways,” he said.
“We’d love to see a longer-term funding piece that’s a little more predictable, but we’ll take what we’re getting right now.”
Kemmere said “hundreds of millions” of dollars are still needed to support rural roads, bridges, water lines and sewer lines, which he called “depreciating assets.”
Joe Ceci, the NDP’S municipal affairs critic, called the UCP’S announcement a “drop in the bucket.” He called on the government to double funding under the Municipal
Stability Initiative. Kemmere said he supported that call.
“I’m hoping this isn’t the only piece because we’ve asked for MSI to be significantly enhanced, too,” he said.
“I’m hoping that is still coming and I haven’t seen an announcement that includes that. We’ve been asking for that for a stimulus approach for quite some time.”
Friday’s announcement didn’t contain any new funding for projects in Alberta’s big cities.
The premier said there would “hopefully” be additional announcements next week about municipal infrastructure funding to create jobs in cities like Calgary and Edmonton.
“We are in ongoing conversations with both the two big cities, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Associations and the Government of Canada in this regard,” Kenney said.
“I would have liked to have moved earlier, but to be honest, part of the thing that we’ve been waiting for is clarity on what the federal government intends to do.”
Kenney said he still lacks certainty on the federal government’s commitment of up to $14 billion in federal transfers to provinces to help relaunch their economies earlier this month. He speculated around $2 billion of that could be earmarked for municipal supports.
“We acknowledge that municipalities are under stress this year, as is every level of government and everyone in the private sector,” he said.
But Ceci said Alberta can’t afford to wait as so many people remain out of work.
“The economy is sputtering and in recession now,” Ceci said. “We need to use whatever levers we have at the provincial level to get money to municipalities.”
He also said the UCP must provide clarity on Calgary’s Green Line LRT project, which received near-unanimous approval from city council earlier this week.
The city is expecting about $3 billion combined from the provincial and federal governments for the project. But in a letter released Wednesday, Mciver noted the project has “undergone several significant changes in scope and cost since it was first announced,” and the province hadn’t yet analyzed it in detail.
Mciver’s letter said the province must ensure the $1.53 billion it has committed to the Green Line is “used responsibly,” and that the government would analyze the benefits and risks of the current alignment “before obligations are incurred by the province, to ensure that taxpayers are protected.”
Ceci accused Mciver of “in a sneaky, underhanded way, trying to kill the Green Line.”
“For him to say ‘I need more information’ is just another kind of way of manufacturing an escape route that he can press,” Ceci continued.
“What Calgarians want is this project funded now. We need bold responses in order for the economy to recover.”
Premier Jason Kenney says work on infrastructure projects will begin as soon as this coming week.