With mounting infrastructure needs popping up across the province, Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith chose Red Deer to introduce her party’s infrastructure policy Thursday.
“Red Deer is the centre of I think one of most important and vibrant corridors of this province,” she said. “And Red Deer, from what I’ve seen is on track to grow to a potential of a quarter-million people over the next 25 to 30 years. It’s going to have immense infrastructure needs over this period of time.
“I’m worried that under our current funding formula, there won’t be the revenues needed to keep up with that.”
Smith said the Tories have been “lurching” from infrastructure project to project with no priorities and throwing money around based on everything except for actual need.
“We’ve seen what has happened when we have that kind of (funding) mismatch in other municipalities such as Calgary and Edmonton,” she said. “I want to make sure we put a funding formula in place so that fast growing communities like Red Deer are able to keep up with that demand for growth.”
Smith said a Wildrose government would provide stable municipal funding, rein in out-of-control infrastructure spending and give municipalities the ability to plan and meet infrastructure needs. She also said her party would introduce a legislated long-term funding formula tied to the growth of provincial tax revenues and examine new potential streams of funding.
She said the Wildrose party would also, in consultation with municipalities, conduct a review of the entire property tax regime in Alberta.
She also said her party has asked the Stelmach government for a priority list of capital projects and the criteria used to establish it.
She said the government hasn’t made any such list available because it doesn’t exist.
“Municipalities simply cannot provide good planning without knowing what they have to work with. By legislating funding, we can remove the risk of internal politicking by ministers and bureaucrats.”
She said an infrastructure audit is also needed when it comes to selecting priorities.
“Albertans are tired of the PC government taking credit for costly megaprojects nobody wants, when badly needed facilities and upgrades go ignored,” she said. “And municipalities are tired of begging for the government’s generosity, only to have money promised – then delayed – then reduced – then restored – and then promised again in a big re-announcement.”
Meanwhile, Smith was also in the City to meet with Mayor Flewwelling and members of Council to talk about current funding needs in Red Deer.
She said currently, infrastructure planning is largely done via a central planning process in Edmonton.
“We have to have a formula that works for everyone. There is just simply no way the provincial government can get it right all the time in trying to make every decision for 350 municipalities. It can’t be done. That’s what we’re acknowledging – the best people to make those decisions are local decision-makers, local council members. And we want to make sure they’re empowered to do that.
“So we need to find a way to decentralize some of that revenue generation so that our local councils have the money they need to meet those priorities,” she said.
Smith said the way dollars are dolled out for infrastructure projects by the current Tory government is a bit of a mystery.
“There seems to be some sort of magical matrix that goes into determining what communities get the priority infrastructure projects that we need. It’s not working for municipalities,” said Smith.
“The problem is it’s a patchwork – there are some communities that are very well funded. They’ve got new modern schools and health facilities they’re happy with and road work that’s been done. There are also other communities that don’t have any of those things,” she said.
“We’ve got to take the mystery out of it, and make it easier for our local councils to be able to match those needs by giving them the autonomy, the decision-making authority and the revenue to be able to meet them,” she said.
“We’re also hearing that you need to have an MLA with political pull if you are expecting to get your projects on the priority list. That’s not fair to municipalities. Every municipality in the province is unique, with their own unique needs.
“Municipalities have become another casualty of the provincial government’s tendency to centralize and consolidate decision-making in Edmonton.”