New capital spending on Alberta municipalities a challenge: Mason

Infrastructure minister cites economic factors for not increasing contribution to infrastructure.

EDMONTON — Alberta’s infrastructure minister says he wants to help towns and cities as much as possible but there are limits with the provincial economy still deep in the red.

“It’s difficult for us in present circumstances to further increase our contribution towards municipal infrastructure,” Brian Mason said.

Mason said Alberta already goes above and beyond. He referred to department figures that show the province leads the nation in per-capita operational and capital contributions to municipalities at more than $500 a head.

Mason made the comments prior to a meeting of federal and provincial counterparts in the Alberta capital to discuss the next phase of Ottawa’s plan to invest $120 billion over the next decade on infrastructure.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has promised to cover half the cost of new projects rather than the expected one-third.

That has led to public sniping between Mason and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson over how much Alberta should chip in.

Iveson said last month he expected the province would contribute one-third. That would leave just 17 per cent to be covered by the City of Edmonton.

Instead, the province paid for 25% in the first phase of grants, forcing the city to scramble to approve an extra $23 million to cover its share.

Mason has said the city was given a heads up in June that the funding model might change given the economic downturn.

Iveson has said he was “disappointed” and felt “sideswiped” with the province ponying up just a quarter share.

He said if that funding formula continues, it will be problematic for the city when higher amounts of cash for transit become available.

The mayor is pitching a program that’s in place in Ontario in which a third-party holding company controls assets for things such as the commuter Go Train or Toronto subway expansion. The company can borrow upfront what’s needed and pay it off over two or three decades.

“I recognize that it’s difficult for provinces to keep up with (funding), but we’d like to work with them to make that viable for them through things like what they’ve done in Ontario, for example,” Iveson said.

Mason said other provinces are matching federal infrastructure money – anywhere from one-third to nothing at all – depending on circumstances and economic situation.

There is no cookie-cutter approach, he added.

“This idea that the province pays a third regardless of what the federal and municipal orders of government pay is not right.”

Premier Rachel Notley’s government is facing a deficit this year approaching $11 billion due to the continued worldwide slump in oil prices.

Despite that, the province is investing an extra $4.5 billion in infrastructure over five years to stimulate the economy and catch up on a backlog of roads, schools and care facilities projects.

The $4.5 billion will lead to close to $35 billion in infrastructure spending by 2020.

Mason noted the extra money is a 15% increase over what had been planned before Notley’s NDP took office in 2015.

“It helps to create jobs. And, because of lower prices, we are able to build more infrastructure with the same amount of money, so it’s a good time to invest.”

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2016

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