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Alberta announces $2B to protect jobs, maintain and improve road, school infrastructure

Alberta government bumps up infrastructure projects to create jobs during COVID-19 downturn
WATCH ABOVE: Premier Jason Kenney announced a $2B accelerated infrastructure program to push up construction and repairs on roads and bridges, including pothole repairs, as well as school renewals and public building renovations.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced Thursday a $2-billion investment in infrastructure maintenance and renewal projects to keep people working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the projects would include repairs on K-12 schools (roofs, doors, windows), HVAC updates and mechanical retrofits to post-secondary facilities, upgrading information technology and audio systems in courthouses, work on roads and bridge decks, and filling potholes.

“Construction season is upon us,” Kenney said. “We cannot afford to lose a day when we need the money to be spent in this economy now.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Canada lost 1 million jobs in March

The funds represent a doubling of the province’s 2020-21 spending on capital maintenance and renewal.

Kenney said the move would create “thousands of good-paying jobs.”

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“We will deliver much-needed improvements to important assets, keep companies operating and most importantly, keep Albertans working,” the premier said. “As the weather improves and buildings are empty, now is the perfect time for us to act.”

He stressed contractors would be reminded to make sure they do work safely and abide by public health orders.

Premier Kenney explains why construction jobs are being generated during time of isolation
Premier Kenney explains why construction jobs are being generated during time of isolation

Transportation Minister Ric McIver said $60 million of the funds would go towards filling potholes, an issue he hears about a lot from Albertans.

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“Sixty-million will repair a lot of potholes,” he said, “but it will do a lot more.”

McIver added that it will also fund highway preservation work.

Pothole repairs, new paving and more road upgrades to take place this spring in Alberta
Pothole repairs, new paving and more road upgrades to take place this spring in Alberta

READ MORE: Jason Kenney predicts unemployment in Alberta could rise to 25% amid COVID-19

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Kenney stressed this was not the end of the province’s plan to create jobs; just the beginning.

Kenney was joined by McIver, Finance Minister Travis Toews, and Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda.

Kenney said there will be more stimulus programs to come, as the United Conservative government determines the best way to restart the economy after the virus peaks, projected to happen in mid to late May.

COVID-19 crisis a chance to re-think approach to employment: Kenney
COVID-19 crisis a chance to re-think approach to employment: Kenney

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley lauded Kenney’s announcement as a smart way to get money out the door to quickly to boost employment.

But she said more has to be done, such as an emergency rent subsidy of up to $10,000 per renter, insurance premium freezes and reductions, and $5,000 for each small business to help them keep operating and adapt to technology.

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The announcement came hours after new job numbers from Statistics Canada showed Alberta’s unemployment rate spiked to 8.7 per cent in March, up from 7.2 per cent the month before.

READ MORE: Calgary’s unemployment rate is highest in Canada as Alberta’s jobless rate spikes

Calgary’s unemployment rate is now the highest in the country, reaching 8.6 per cent in March. Edmonton’s unemployment now sits at 7.9 per cent compared with 7.8 per cent the month before.

Mayor Don Iveson was asked about the funding at an Edmonton council meeting Thursday. He said he has been in conversation with both the provincial and federal governments about funding for local projects.

“We were asked by the province to provide them a list of projects to consider for stimulus and the feds have also asked — more in broad categories — for the kinds of things that we might be able to do for national programs,” Iveson said.

The mayor said he has confirmed that funding from the province for municipal projects is separate from the infrastructure money announced by Kenney on Thursday.

“Some information, draft information, has been shared with the province and then I intend to write a letter today with some of the information council had discusses previously with some of the priorities that are shovel-ready that could move ahead and submit that to the premier and to treasury board for consideration as part of their municipal package,” he said.

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With files from The Canadian Press.