David Marsden: Leave the financial stimulus to private industry

So, you’ve heard the announcement about the economic stimulus that is much needed for our city.

No, not the $10 billion of borrowing the Alberta government has put forward as a recipe to improve our damaged economy.

I am talking about the money being put up by a downtown hotel to turn its vacant rooms into apartments. The project entails the renovation of the exterior of the tower, and the conversion of 109 rooms that have often sat empty, into long-term rental suites.

The spaces are certain to be desirable to young people ready for a taste of affordable independence, professionals who need a place to stay while in the city, as well as older people looking to downsize.

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The project will help reinvigorate the downtown core. Residents will walk across the street for groceries and explore the eclectic independently owned restaurants and businesses nearby.

The rooms’ occupants will enjoy access to all sorts of amenities, and in savouring all that downtown has to offer, they’ll inject some vitality into a part of Red Deer that could use some support.

Heck, residents might wager a bet at the nearby casino from time to time.

The economic spinoffs of this project, including the extensive refurbishing of the hotel tower, are substantial. It is a welcomed vote of confidence in the future of our city, and the renovations are expected to be completed within eight months, once the building permit is granted.

The cost to taxpayers: nothing.

Then we have the United Conservative government’s $10-billion program to get the economy restarted.

It involves increasing infrastructure spending by 40 per cent beyond what was budgeted. The record-setting expenditure apparently covers roads, schools and hospitals, and everything in between.

One of the first projects announced is the widening of Highway 3, south of Lethbridge. The problem is it won’t get underway until next year.

That’s the downside of the government’s prescription to get people working again.

Yes, it generates headlines today, but its impact won’t be felt until well into the future. It does nothing to create jobs in the short term or solve central Albertans’ needs.

Let’s take the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, for instance, which has not been identified as a priority in the government’s most recent announcement.

The government committed $100 million toward its improvement in February.

One would expect the recent 40 per cent increase in infrastructure funding would have led to shovels in the ground and a reduction in the deaths caused by inadequate facilities.

No, the finance minister told the Advocate last week.

Another example is the announcement last fall of a new middle school in the city’s north. The name of the school was released last week, and apparently, bids to select an architect will go out this summer.

During the coming school year, a committee will be selected to consult with the architect on the design. There’s no word, though, on when actual construction will begin.

This is the pace the government works at. Announcements are made and months and years go by without any tangible progress.

The benefits of the much-ballyhooed $10-billion economic Band-Aid won’t be felt for several months to come.

Indeed, ironically, the government’s pledge has reduced Alberta’s credit rating, raising the cost of borrowing the money to carry out these initiatives.

Government has a role to play in providing essential services, but when it comes to jump-starting a lacklustre economy, private business is much more efficient in getting the job done.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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