Friday, April 20, 2012

The Municipal Sustainability fund and the Wild Rose Party

With all the discussion about WRP candidates who believe that gay people will burn in the fiery lakes of hell or candidates who think their racial privilege naturally makes them the default "identifiable" candidate and the pro-choice, anti-gay, conscience clause mud slinging, there's something we aren't talking about: that is how having a Wild Rose government is going to directly impact our cities and towns.

You may not even know about the Municipal Sustainability Initiative . It's a program that was instituted in Alberta in 2007 to provide funding for municipal infrastructure projects, such as transit, roadways, bridges, and storm sewer systems (to name a few). The funding source stems from provincial revenues generated by unsustainable resource extractions such as bitumen mining and natural gas and oil drilling. These projects must comply with and demonstrate at least two pillars of sustainability (economic, social or environmental).

This initiative is effective in sharing revenues with overburdened local governments while initiating sustainable projects at the local level where they have the greatest and most immediate effect. Pretty cool, right?

Not really, if the Danielle Smith becomes our next Premier. The Wild Rose wants to limit this funding to municipalities and remove oversight on what kind of projects the money will be spent on. The latter part seems to be a not unreasonable step to take, except anyone in business knows that standards for project spending exist for a reason. Money handed off without oversight is almost always wasted. However, the WRP is suggesting that the rigor of the program is nothing more than cronyism and that money is handed out based on politics and favouritism.

If that's the case, what does the WRP think the answer is? Doing away with current infrastructure programs and associated "bureaucracy" and have a single, legislated long-term funding formula. Which will somehow magically provide municipalities with even more money than they receive today - and, I assume based on the rest of the party platform, doing so without raising taxes.

So, the plan is:

2. Build a one-size fits all replacement to individualized funding programs
3. ????
4. Profit!

Call me skeptical (seriously, go for it. I revel in the label!), but that just seems like a spending cash disaster waiting to happen to anyone who knows how projects work and scrapping the MSI means getting rid of millions of dollars allocated to sustainable infrastructure development in our municipalities ($846 million dollars for the 2012-13 budget). I'm not seeing the positives lining up.

In the end, development is not a quick-fix, easy answer issue, whether it is abroad or at home (ask the Kony 2012 campaign), and we need to be rigorous in our scrutiny of how it (and the associated money) is handled in our province. That is our responsibility to ourselves and to our progeny. Spending less money while giving more money away sure sounds nice. But is it realistic, and more importantly, is it useful to Alberta?