'I'm very disappointed': Mayor responds to government dropping city funding agreement in Budget 2019
EDMONTON -- Edmonton's mayor says he was completely blindsided to learn Thursday the new provincial budget will scrap a municipal funding program for Alberta's two largest cities.
The United Conservative government has coloured cuts to post-secondary education and the public sector, as well as a scrapping of the NDP's $500-million City Charters Fiscal Framework Act, as an attempt to reduce debt and create jobs throughout the province.
The City Charters Fiscal Framework agreement, announced in late-2018 by the City and the previous government, tied provincial funding for Edmonton and Calgary to Alberta's economy. The agreement was to fill the hole created by the Municipal Sustainability Initiative when it expires in 2022.
When it was announced in November, officials said an arrangement was only made with the cities, and not other municipalities, because Edmonton and Calgary took an MSI reduction in Budget 2018 in anticipation of the program being implemented.
On Thursday, Budget 2019 revealed plans by the United Conservatives to replace it with a new framework worth $455 million starting in 2022-23.
- Read the full 2019 budget on the government's website
- Winners and losers of the 2019 Alberta budget
- Tobacco taxes, fee hikes an Airbnb levy: Other things to watch for in Alberta Budget 2019
"The MacKinnon report made it clear that municipalities must shoulder more of the responsibility for major projects," Finance Minister Travis Toews said Thursday.
"The panel found that Alberta provides over 20 per cent more grant support to municipalities than other provinces, and recommended that we bring municipal spending in line accordingly."
However, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said the City was "completely blindsided about the City Charter being ripped up."
He commented, "I had an expectation that because it was in the platform it was secure. I'm very disappointed today to find that, with no warning whatsoever, that has changed."
The province did commit to maintaining the $3-billion commitment to the Edmonton and Calgary LRTs; however, that funding will not come until after this four-year cycle.
"The provincial spend component is being pushed out to better reflect our fiscal situation," Toews said.
Iveson acknowledged the UCP government is keeping its promise for medium-term LRT funding, but said Edmonton will carry more of the project's burden.
"The west LRT funding appears to intact, although it is back loaded out several years, which means the City, if it proceeds with the project, will have to float the cost. Which means the government will save money on interest, which Edmontonians will pick up in their place. It's another download. It's moving debt around," Iveson said.
"It keeps the project alive, which is positive, but that's about the only positive I can see. And against the backdrop of everything else that's being loaded onto Edmontonians and City Hall today, it's another problem for us to deal with."
How other projects will fare under Budget 2019
Over the next four years, the provincial government is funding the new south Edmonton hospital ($238 million)—though it's unclear when it will be built—and upgrades to the Misericordia Community Hospital ($63 million), Norwood Long Term Care Facility ($327 million), Stollery Children's Hospital Critical Care Program ($31 million), Edmonton and Calgary ring roads ($1.9 billion), Telus World of Science ($17 million) and Winspear Centre ($27 million).
The UCP is also saving $579 million after it decided to scrap the Edmonton Clinical Laboratory Hub project.
Iveson cancels Holland trip to be in Edmonton after new budget announced
Iveson made the comments at Edmonton International Airport, from where he was supposed to fly to Bergen op Zoom, Holland, and Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
The two-day trip was to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Holland with the South Alberta Light Horse.
Iveson said he would no longer be going to the event "because as mayor, I need to be part of the conversation in our city over the next several days about this broken promise."
He added he was considering calling a special council meeting to discuss Budget 2019.
Iveson said he may still go to Washington.