Notley seeks advice for capital plan

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June 25, 2015 8:15 AM

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced that she would be seeking the advice of an outside professional to help with Alberta’s new capital plan, which will see enhancements to the province’s infrastructure. Some of the work will include new schools, healthcare facilities and work on Alberta’s roads and highways.

The professional who will be lending his expertise is former governor of the Bank of Canada David Dodge. Notley described him as one of the nation’s leading economists and most trusted financial experts.

“Our government understands that our kids need seats in their classrooms. That our families need quick access to healthcare facilities and our drivers needs safe and smooth commutes on our roads and highways to get them to work and back home,” Notley said. “It’s a tall order made even taller by our current fiscal challenges.”

With the global economic downturn and ongoing drop in oil revenue, she says putting funds into infrastructure may be a challenge, but it’s one the province needs to face. The premier says the government needs to get the capital plan done properly and they’re turning to the “experts” to help pull it off. The NDP have requested the help of Dodge to give insight while they develop the plan to address these infrastructure needs.

The plan, Notley says, must not only address the growing the infrastructure deficit but also look at maintaining the existing buildings and roads.

“We’ve asked David to focus on three specific issues. First, we must consider the overall size of the capital plan. Is it appropriate for our government to engage in major capital spending over these next four years?

“We need to consider the slowing growth of our economy, which on the surface looks like a challenge, but may possibly be an opportunity. For example, it’s arguable that the construction industry has greater capacity to take on projects,” she said.

Regarding the construction industry, the premier says Alberta now has a bigger labour pool to draw on and potentially lower material costs. She says she recognizes that this is an assumption and that’s why the government needs Dodge’s advice. Doing this infrastructure work during a downturn might also help to protect jobs, she pointed out, keeping the province’s residents employed.

“But again those assumptions need expert advice.”

The second issue the government asked Dodge to focus on was finding the proper mix of capital, which supports services, and encouraging the long-term sustainable growth in a varied economy. The third issue they are asking for his help with is finding the best approach to paying for the capital plan, especially considering the present economic environment.

“For example, is it prudent for Alberta to borrow to finance infrastructure and other capital? And if so, what is the appropriate amount and what are the best tools to use? With David’s assistance, we are working on a capital plan that will answer all of these questions,” she said. “The plan will be focused, practical and achievable.”

Dodge says they will be working on the plan over the summer and agreed on the three areas he was asked for his advice on as being the most important topics to consider.

“It’s not only working with the Minister (of Infrastructure Brian Mason) to come up precisely with a capital plan but we have to think about the context in which that will be done. This is a plan that would stretch out over a number of years, that’s the important thing about infrastructure,” Dodge said. “You don’t try to do it all at once, you do it for the long haul. Both to improve the efficiency and quality of government services on the one hand and to improve the opportunity for economic development on the other hand.”

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