Kenney promises $1 billion boost to infrastructure repairs

While construction season has already begun, Kenney suggested the surge in work would likely be most noticeable by the summer.

Premier Jason Kenney takes part in a press conference on the Province's response to COVID-19, in Edmonton Monday April 6, 2020. David Bloom / Postmedia

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney pre-announced a $1-billion plan Thursday morning to boost the maintenance budget to provincial infrastructure including highway construction and pothole repairs.

Kenney hosted a conference call with Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association member journalists Thursday to give rural reporters and chance to guide questioning relevant to their markets.

“I’ll be announcing a billion-dollar increase for capital and maintenance, a doubling of the budget. It’s a quick way of surging money into the economy, creating thousands of jobs. It’s relatively easy to scale up. We don’t have to go through a complicated tendering and procurement process,” Kenney noted when asked for details of the plan by the Grove Examiner.

The injection would boost the budget from $937 million to $1.9 billion by accelerating the capital plan, Kenney said. This is on top of the existing $6.9-billion capital plan, Kenney added. The extra money will include funding for paving roads, fixing bridges, filling potholes, and repairs for K-12 schools. HVAC upgrades would be installed in universities, and courthouses would get information technology upgrades.

“These infrastructure investments will be focused on projects that can be actioned quickly. By doubling our capital maintenance and renewal project funds, we will deliver much-needed improvements to important assets, keep companies operating and most importantly, keep Albertans working. As the weather improves and buildings are empty, now is the perfect time for us to act,” Kenney said.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the impact of the measures will come too late for many Alberta businesses and workers.

“We are facing an economic crisis,” said Notley. “We can’t afford to continue to sit back and watch more Albertans lose their livelihoods. We need bold action and we need it now.”

“The federal government has announced a 75 per cent wage subsidy plan for businesses, but it still requires legislative introduction and approval from the House of Commons and the Senate. By the time federal support arrives, some companies will have been closed for almost two months without any revenue. The provincial government has brought in measures to defer taxes, loans, and utility payments, but according to business owners, this isn’t enough to save their businesses and only adds to their debt levels.”

While construction season has already begun, Kenney suggested the surge in work would likely be most noticeable by the summer.

The Director of Parkland County Community Services, Sarah Mate, said the county is already in talks with the province on their prime targets for funding in the region.

“We are in discussions with the province on our infrastructure priorities,” Mate said Thursday.

Kenney also said rural Alberta businesses could be offered earlier opening timelines and more relaxed measures from those in urban centres because they would likely be in low-spread zones, Kenney said.

The premier also reviewed the big picture in the fight against COVID-19 in the province. He confirmed there have been 29 deaths in Alberta to Thursday morning. He also warned that it’s going to get much worse moving into May.

“We’re early in the curve. We expect this to get significantly worse. We expect the viral peak to be in mid-May and the peak of hospitalizations at the end of May,” Kenney said. “We’re headed for some very challenging times. I expect our downturn will be deeper and longer than in the rest of the world.”

To that end, Kenney said Energy Minister Sonya Savage was on a video call with members of OPEC to plead with them to halt their apparent drive to “crush North American oil.”