Deadline looms for stimulus cash

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Local projects on track, says office, but 15 per cent could have cash yanked

Alberta could lose up to $61 million in federal stimulus cash next year, warns the parliamentary budget officer, as about a third of its construction projects could miss their 2011 deadline.

The federal government pledged to spend about $4 billion over two years in 2009 as part of a stimulus plan to get Canada out of recession. Provinces and municipalities could use the cash to build roads, sewers and other projects, but would have it clawed back if those projects were not complete by March 31, 2011.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page tabled his report on the stimulus plan Monday. The report looked at construction projects backed by the stimulus fund as of March 31, 2010.

Canada is now halfway through the plan, Page found, and has finished just a quarter of these projects. If this pace continues, 24 to 46 per cent of the 4,000-some projects in the plan won’t meet the 2011 deadline, and up to $501 million would not be spent.

Alberta is in a slightly worse situation, according to the report, with about 89 per cent of its 235 projects incomplete as of this March. In the worst-case scenario, 35 per cent of Alberta’s projects would not be done on time, costing the province $61 million in funding.

“If this happens,” Page says, “the bill for this will be transferred to the provinces and the municipalities.”

Local projects on schedule

St. Albert received several million dollars in grants through the stimulus plan for various projects, including the construction of connectors to Anthony Henday Drive and renovations to the Akinsdale Arena.

All those projects are on track to meet the 2011 deadline, says Chris Jardine, the city’s general manager of community and protective services. “We specifically looked for projects we knew would get done,” he says. The new tennis court surface at Fountain Park Pool is almost complete, for example, while the pool’s filter system will be replaced this winter.

One of the two Henday connector projects has been delayed, according to city staff, but it is not subject to the 2011 deadline.

Sturgeon County’s expansion of 195th Avenue near Edmonton Garrison is also well on track, says county infrastructure manager Ian McKay. “Next March doesn’t do much good for outdoor construction projects like this,” he says, “so really freeze-up is the deadline for us.”

It was the same with Morinville’s new $10 million community centre, says Mayor Lloyd Bertschi, about $3 million of which came from the stimulus plan. “The steel is going up as we speak,” he says, confident it will be built on time.

Extension would help

Alberta is at a disadvantage compared to other provinces, Bertschi says, as its stimulus cash didn’t roll out until September 2009 — about eight months after it was announced in that year’s budget. “Because you were so late getting started with us, it’d be nice to have a three-month or even a six-month extension.”

The stimulus plan was always meant to be temporary, says Edmonton-St. Albert member of Parliament Brent Rathgeber, which is why it has a cut-off date. Still some provinces, like Saskatchewan, have had projects delayed for legitimate reasons like floods. “There may be some room for some extension if there are some bona fide reasons for not being able to complete on time.”

Many of these projects might simply have needed a year to get organized, Page notes. We’ll have a better view of how the plan’s done this fall once the data from the summer construction season comes in, he adds.

The report is available at www2.parl.gc.ca/Sites/PBO-DPB/.

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About Author

Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.