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Calgary, Edmonton LRT projects could be cancelled with 90 days’ notice, changed by minister

Premier Jason Kenney speaks to the media in Edmonton, Alberta, on Tuesday Oct. 22, 2019. The Alberta government is tabling a budget today that will cut overall spending on programs by nearly three per cent.
Premier Jason Kenney speaks to the media in Edmonton, Alberta, on Tuesday Oct. 22, 2019. The Alberta government is tabling a budget today that will cut overall spending on programs by nearly three per cent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amber Bracken

A clause in the UCP’s Bill 20 could give the provincial government an out when it comes to funding Calgary’s Green Line and Edmonton’s West Valley Line LRT projects.

The clause allows the Lieutenant Governor to end a funding agreement with either city with just 90 days notice, “without cause.”

Bill 20 also would allow Transportation Minister Ric McIver to “modify or impose additional terms and conditions prior to approving” any proposed changes to the transit projects.

READ MORE: Alberta Budget 2019: Deferred provincial funding puts Calgary’s Green Line LRT ‘in jeopardy’

“Essentially, the government can change their mind on a whim at any point in the future and that funding disappears,” Jeff Binks, president of nonprofit advocacy group LRT on the Green, told Global News.

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When challenged by Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley in question period, Premier Jason Kenney would not comment on the possibility of enacting the clause to cancel the funding.

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“We are committed to the Green Line,” Kenney said Wednesday. “It will continue to be funded initially through the federal transfers and the provincial transfers in a way that allows us to get to balance within four years.”

Binks said the details of the bill paint a different picture.

“If they’re honest about their support for the Green Line, if they’re truly committed to building this project, it’s a mystery as to why all of this language is being snuck in with very little insight,” Binks said.

READ MORE: Calgary city council told about impacts of provincial budget

In a news release, Notley questioned the motives behind the language in Bill 20 surrounding public transit project funding.

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“[I]t’s clear now that they plan to hold the project, and the City of Calgary, hostage,” Notley said.

According to the 2019 provincial budget, Calgary will receive just $75 million of the previously-committed $550 million by 2022-23. Edmonton will begin to receive project funds after that.

READ MORE: Alberta Budget 2019: Student employment program axed in favour of Skills for Jobs strategy

Both Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Ward 12 Councillor Shane Keating previously said the deferred provincial funding puts the transit project “in jeopardy.”

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said if his city continues with the LRT extension, additional costs will be borne by his citizens.

“[W]hich means the government will save on the interest, which Edmontonians will pick up in their place,” Iveson said Thursday when the budget was released.

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Tuesday, Keating said Calgary has already spent $400 million in preparations for building the Green Line. The first phase of the project is estimated to cost a total of $4.65 billion. The province’s share of the project was to total $1.53 billion by 2028.

The cancellation clause found in Bill 20 didn’t worry Calgary Ward 2 Councillor Joe Magliocca, a self-admitted Green Line opponent, who welcomed the added level of oversight from the province.

READ MORE: Alberta Budget 2019: Fees and taxes – What will it cost more to do?

“I’m not concerned with that clause at all,” he said. “We just have to have provision in there to deal with the money appropriately, not just to go out there and do what we want to do with it.

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“It is put in there to make sure it is put to good use.”

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Nenshi issued a statement Wednesday saying the city was not consulted on the clause that caught him by surprise.

“At first blush, it looks like these provisions will make it more difficult to proceed with the Green Line,” the Calgary mayor said. “As the senior funding partner, contributing close to 40 per cent of the cost of the project, we need to work with our partners at the provincial and federal government to find a solution that works for all the funders.

“With 20,000 jobs supported through this investment, we must also find a solution that works for the companies looking to bid on this project.

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“We remain committed to building the Green Line for all Calgarians, particularly those living in north central and southeast Calgary.”

–with files from Aurelio Perri, Vinesh Pratap and Emily Mertz, Global News