Alberta municipalities, transit get financial boost amid COVID-19 financial crises

Alberta municipalities, transit get financial boost amid COVID-19 financial crises
WATCH ABOVE: Just over $600 million is being directed to Alberta's cities who are struggling financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some of the money will go to transit in Edmonton. As Vinesh Pratap explains, the cash injection is short of the initial call for $217 million — but still welcome.

Alberta municipalities struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic are seeing another boost to their finances this week, with Calgary and Edmonton’s transit systems getting a large chunk of money.

Premier Jason Kenney announced $600 million for Alberta’s municipalities on Tuesday, thanks to the partnership with the federal government.

Read more: COVID-19, low oil prices leads to dramatic drop in demand for power in Alberta

Kenney said the province is matching $233 million from the Canadian government to help municipalities maintain their public services for a total of $466 million, as well as $70 million going toward public transit for a total of $140 million.

Banff’s face mask bylaw includes indoor and outdoor spaces
Banff’s face mask bylaw includes indoor and outdoor spaces

The newly announced money is in addition to $500 million already promised by the province as part of the COVID-19 economic recovery plan announced last month.

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“I am pleased to announce that provincial taxpayers will provide municipalities with more than $1.1 billion to build core infrastructure and help local governments cope with the COVID[-19] crisis while creating thousands of good paying jobs right now,” Kenney said.
Alberta business community cites diversification as top priority to economic recovery
Alberta business community cites diversification as top priority to economic recovery

Kenney said municipalities and Metis settlements across the province can start applying for funding immediately, for projects like roads, bridges, water and wastewater treatment plants that can be built either this year or next.

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Kenney said he understands the investments come thanks to a lot of borrowed money, but said it’s essential to keeping Alberta’s economy above water during an unprecedented period of financial trouble.

“If we don’t get people back to work, if we don’t restore investor confidence and get our economy growing again, the fiscal challenge will become insurmountable,” Kenney said. “So jobs and the economy must come first.”

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Kenney said a fiscal update from the finance minister can be expected next month, but estimated on Tuesday that the province’s total deficit to come in at more than $20 billion.

Delivery of services changed ‘like never before’

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson thanked the provincial government for getting the deal done, and listening to the calls of Alberta’s towns and cities over the past few months.

He also thanked the government for recognizing that while many transit systems in the province have struggled, Calgary and Edmonton’s transit systems have been the hardest hit, and will get the lion’s share of the funding.

“The success and health of our transit system is key to our economic recovery, key to keeping the workforce healthy, key to keeping Edmontonians healthy and our city,” Iveson said.

He added Edmonton’s total financial impact from the pandemic is expected to be about $172 million by the end of 2020.

“The City of Edmonton has faced significant, non-recoverable operational losses related to delivering and continuing to deliver essential services during this pandemic, chief among them transit,” he said. “But also waste, emergency services, enforcement, other front-line and essential services.”

Read more: COVID-19: Edmonton to make masks mandatory in city-operated facilities, on public transit

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Iveson added Edmonton is planning to resume “something resembling full daily weekday service as of Aug. 30.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi echoed Iveson’s comments, noting that municipalities’ delivery of services was changed “like never before.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Calgary Transit at ‘a turning point,’ moving to ensure fares are paid

He said he was deeply grateful for the funding, adding it was a tough thing to accept for his city which has prided itself on not needing budget support.

“[The money] shows that even as we’re facing this global pandemic, even as we’re facing the incredible hardship on Alberta citizens and businesses, we’re getting through it like we always get through things: together,” Nenshi said.

Calgary’s Transit system has seen an almost 90 per cent drop in ridership.