Alberta premier says school construction delays don’t equal a broken promise

Alberta Premier Dave Hancock is dismissing suggestions his Tory government is breaking a promise by admitting it won’t be able to build 50 new schools by 2016.

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Dave Hancock is dismissing suggestions his Tory government is breaking a promise by admitting it won’t be able to build 50 new schools by 2016.

Hancock said Thursday that critics need to focus on the outcome rather than on the timeline.

“We will get those schools done as quickly as they possibly can be done,” Hancock said at a news conference.

“Our target is to still get them done by 2016. In some cases, it may be slower than that, but it won’t be because we haven’t put every effort into getting them done.

“Outcomes are what’s important to Albertans, and outcomes are what we deliver.”

Former premier Alison Redford promised during the 2012 election campaign to build 50 new schools and modernize 70 more by 2016 — the next election year — to reduce overcrowded classrooms.

Government ministers have stuck to that promise even though no shovels have broken ground.

On Wednesday, Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale said 19 of the 50 new schools will be delayed. They were to be built on a partnership basis with private contractors under a so-called P3 model.

But Drysdale said the final price tag on the P3s was pegged at almost $571 million — $14 million higher than what it would cost the province to contract out to build the schools by itself.

The decision to go with the traditional approach has set those schools back until 2017, but Drysdale said the other 31 are still on track for 2016.

Eight of the schools are in Calgary and another three are in Edmonton.

NDP education critic Deron Bilous said the Tories had been shown data for years that the P3 model was uneconomical, but stuck with it on the ideological belief that the private sector can always deliver the same service for less cost.

The delay has real-life consequences for students working in portables, Bilous said, and for kids being bused to schools that are further and further away.

“It’s ridiculous (for Hancock) to say focus on outcomes and not on timelines,” said Bilous.

“School boards provincewide will tell you they needed new schools yesterday, not a delay.”

Bilous said voters are once again paying for unrealistic promises made by the Tories in 2012 to deliver the vote.

The government is on track to owe $21 billion by 2017 to pay for new roads, schools and hospitals.

Redford also promised 140 new family-care clinics to handle more front-line health responsibilities and to take pressure off overburdened emergency wards.

Last month, Health Minister Fred Horne said 12 such clinics are in development and that 140 are unattainable.

Hancock said while the nuts and bolts of that health promise have changed, the core commitment of better front-line care is being delivered either through other changes or through existing primary- care networks.

Primary-care networks are run privately by doctors, while family-care clinics are overseen by community boards.

“Albertans know that when you talk about family-care clinics, what you’re talking about is getting the best quality primary care for Albertans and utilizing the suite of health-care professionals and services to achieve that,” said Hancock.

“They don’t want us to build 140 clinics for the sake of having 140 buildings.”

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