Vermilion-Lloydminster MLA Dr. Richard Starke is giving the Alberta 2018-19 budget a thumbs down for construction prospects in the region.
“There is very little in the way of capital projects in the Lloydminster region in this budget,” said Starke, who answered questions about the Mar. 22 budget following the Rotary Club of Lloydminster meeting on Monday.
Alberta’s capital budget has been cut by $2.5 billion this fiscal year with an additional $1 billion cut over the next two years.
“Some of the things we were asking for through our request to the infrastructure minister are not in this budget,” said Starke.
“It’s quite disappointing to know there are significant capital needs in health care and education in terms of some of our roadways, highways and bridges in the constituency, none of which appear in this budget.”
He said while some roads in need of repair will get some attention, there is no funding for critical projects like an interchange for Highway 16 and Secondary Hwy. 897.
Starke added there is no money in the budget either for needed upgrades to Hwy 870 south of Innisfree.
“My look through the budget showed the only funding for Lloydminster is funding that is provided for the Dr. Cooke Extended Care Centre for demolition of the south and centre wings,” said Starke.
“But nothing yet in terms of planning for a replacement facility which was promised as well by the government, so overall for the people of Lloydminster this is not a good news budget.
“I don’t see much for job creation in the local area.”
The Alberta Construction Association voiced similar concerns following the budget by declaring it a bad news budget for the industry.
“The government has been signalling the capital spending cut for a while now,” said ACA executive director Ken Gibson.
“In order to approach a balanced budget, the government has cut spending on needed infrastructure.”
Starke added he’s not surprised, but it should be very disappointing to Albertans.
The Alberta government announced almost $393 million for 20 school projects across the province, but he said the fine print tells another story.
“When you peel that back, it’s in fact seven new schools, seven being modernized and a couple more being renovated and two just going into the planning process,” he said.
“So to say 20 new schools are up and going to be built is actually quite different from the reality.”
Starke said the closest school project to the riding is the Irma project, which was previously approved but is not in the constituency.
Gibson said the construction industry continues to deal with the consequences of a reduction in private investment during the downturn and public spending on capital projects has been a way to keep Albertans employed in the sector.
With private investment forecasted to remain weak, he said ACA is concerned industry may not recover in the next few years.
“This is a period when our industry is struggling and we depend on our public partners to help keep Albertans employed and provide the schools and other facilities needed by Albertans,” said Gibson.
Construction employs one in nine working Albertans.
“These cuts will be felt by Alberta families in every community across the province,” he added.
Gibson noted 80 per cent of ACA members are small businesses which lack the resources to ride out a sustained downturn.
Starke said one of the things that happens after the budget process is a review of the main estimates.
“So what that basically is, is a committee whereby the minister and their senior staff have to answer questions about their ministry’s budget,” he said.
In his new role as an independent member, he plans to attend all 22 of the estimates, and will be asking questions of the various ministers including the premier.
“If you have some thoughts you would like me to pose on your behalf one of the benefits of being an independent member is that you can ask whatever damn question you feel like,” he said.
“I intend on doing so.”