EDMONTON — Alberta Tory leadership candidate Ric McIver is accusing his rival Jim Prentice of behaving like an irresponsible “candy man” for making all kinds of promises on school construction.
“Albertans have seen this movie before. They’ve seen a campaign where somebody has tried to be the candy man and made multi-hundred-million-promises to every room they’re in. And they’ve seen how that works out, ” McIver said Friday.
“I think Albertans are ready for a different approach from their next leader, one that I’m offering.”
On Thursday, Prentice sharply criticized Alberta’s Tory government for failing to come through on a promise made by former premier Alison Redford in 2012 to build 50 new schools and modernize 70 more by 2016.
Ground has yet to be broken on any of the new schools, and last week Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale announced 19 of them will be delayed until 2017.
All sides agree new schools are critical to a province that is growing by more than 100,000 a year.
The government is hearing increasing complaints of students working in portables or gymnasiums and facing long bus rides.
Prentice promised he would reprioritize capital spending to get shovels in the ground. He also committed to an additional 40 or 50 schools, if necessary, to ensure students could learn in comfortable environments.
Prentice said he, too, would commit to getting the 50 schools in place, but he added that announcing such projects requires homework.
“We will get the schools built and we will do it based on facts, on an understanding of our economic situation (and) our understanding on the number of (classroom) seats needed.”
McIver, Prentice and Thomas Lukaszuk are all vying to replace Redford, who resigned in March over a spending scandal. Party members vote in September.
McIver and Lukaszuk are former cabinet ministers under Redford. Prentice is a one-time federal Conservative MP and cabinet minister under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Prior to joining the race on May 7, McIver had been the infrastructure minister for just over four months and was in charge of getting the schools built.
Prior to McIver’s tenure, Drysdale was in charge of infrastructure. He was returned to the portfolio when McIver joined the leadership race.
Drysdale said last week the 19 schools were delayed because they were to be built under a P3 model, which is a joint funding deal with private developers.
He said the plan was scrapped when the government learned the cost of building the 19 schools under a P3 model would be about $14 million higher than if the government hired contractors itself.
McIver said when he left the portfolio, the department was on its way to solving the P3 problem and on target to get the 50 schools built for the fall of 2016.
“When I left the ministry the plans were, and the schedule still was, 2016.”
Was it too ambitious for Redford to have promised 50 schools right off the bat? McIver was asked.
No, he said.
“What I learned from the construction industry (is) they want to bid on Alberta schools. They want those contracts, but the government, frankly, in some cases was putting red tape in the way that was unnecessary.
“We need to actually cut red tape, not add it.”