A new era of recognition for mid-size cities and regional hubs may be on the horizon.
Mayor Tara Veer said she feels optimistic after meeting with Amarjeet Sohi, the federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, in Red Deer on Tuesday.
Council met with the minister before the city hosted a mayor’s forum at Civic Yards.
“The fact that a sitting federal infrastructure minister came to Red Deer to me bodes well for recognition for mid-sized cities and regional hubs,” said Veer. “We appreciated his accessibility and willingness to convene with Central Alberta mayors and it gave us an opportunity to ask questions both in a general sense around potential, existing infrastructure dollars. But it also built a relationship with the minister and our region so that in the future there is an open door for the municipalities of our region.”
Sohi got an earful from council when he asked what has worked and what has not for infrastructure funding to municipalities in the past. Veer said council expressed a few concerns including funding pockets that pitted municipalities against one another or against non-profit agencies. She said there have been challenges with the bilateral agreement between the provincial and federal governments, where mid-sized cities in Alberta have been shut of the funding.
“The focus for infrastructure funds is often between major metropolitan areas and their infrastructure needs or rural areas,” said Veer. “As a mid-sized city, and particularly one that is a regional hub, we have over the last few years have not been eligible on either front. We find ourselves sometimes in between a rock and a hard place on infrastructure funding.”
Veer said that message seemed to really resonate with the minister.
The general sense at the mayor’s forum was the necessity of opening up the purse strings to the $700 million in available funding for municipalities, which has been held up until a bilateral agreement with the province is signed.
“We need that money accessible within the next four to six weeks so that municipalities do not miss yet another construction season,” said Veer. “Really if government’s role in an economic recession is to bring stability through public infrastructure stimulus funding then for us to capitalize on this upcoming construction season municipalities need access to that in order to get their communities working.”
Sohi said on Tuesday that he does not want to lose a construction season and would like to have the money flowed through to municipalities sooner than later.
Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie was pleased with the government’s heavy investment in infrastructure such as transportation, transit, water, wastewater. He said this is a great message to the City of Lacombe and region because of its dire need of a regional wastewater line.
“I think the message from municipalities to the minister last night was quit talking about it and make it happen,” said Christie. “I think he is going to get it done. I feel that the talking is going to end and the doing is going to start.”
Sohi is a former Edmonton city councillor and transit driver. Christie worked with Sohi on the AUMA board for several years.
“With Minister Sohi’s background he actually gets it,” said Christie. “He has had his boots on the ground. He’s been in the trenches and he knows what it is like at the municipal level.”
Sylvan Lake deputy mayor Graham Parsons said it seemed the government is open to speeding up the processes but there is also a comfort level that the minister is a former municipal councillor, which means he understands the issues that municipalities are facing.
Parsons said the major issue in Sylvan Lake is water and wastewater and that seems to be the theme for many of the Central Alberta municipalities.
“The faster the process goes and the faster we get the money, the better,” said Parsons.