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Copeland unsure what NDP budget means for region

Local politicians are in a wait and see mode as details surrounding the billions of dollars the Alberta NDP will be pouring into its capital plan have yet to be fully released.
The NDP released their provincial budget on April 14. Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland is hoping the city will be able to tap into some of the infrastructure funding.
The NDP released their provincial budget on April 14. Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland is hoping the city will be able to tap into some of the infrastructure funding.

Local politicians are in a wait and see mode as details surrounding the billions of dollars the Alberta NDP will be pouring into its capital plan have yet to be fully released.

“You hear about how billions of dollars are going to be spent on capital, but you really have no idea if anything is going to land in the community,” said Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland, after scouring over the budget looking for any funding commitments to the Lakeland and being left disheartened.

“We don't really know if any community projects are going to be funded. We just have to wait and see if any of this 2016 and 2017 money will land in the community.”

The 2016 Alberta budget, released on April 14, will see the government dump billions of dollars into its operations in order to offset the current economic downturn. This spending will see the NDP exceed debt ceiling it legislated just five months ago and plunge the province into $57.6 billion in debt by 2019.

“When oil prices fell in the past, governments responded with reckless and extreme cuts and Alberta families paid the price. Our choice is to move Alberta forward and not turn back the clock by repeating those damaging mistakes,” said Joe Ceci, the Alberta Minister of Finance.

Highlighting the budget is the Alberta Jobs Plan, a strategy the government hopes will help support families through a tough economy, promote job creation and economic diversification, and carefully control government spending. This proposal will see billions of dollars injected into family support programs, infrastructure, diversifying the energy industry and supporting business.

Over the next five years a total of $9 billion will be invested in municipal infrastructure, $4.6 billion will be spent on roads and bridges, $3.5 billion will be spent on school projects and $2.2 billion will be devoted to green infrastructure projects.

Copeland is hoping that the City of Cold Lake can tap into that green infrastructure funding and get a little money back for the transit service they just fully funded.

“When you look at the City of Cold Lake with our busing, I think we were ahead of the curve. We will have to see if there is a way to recapture our costs in public transit through this green infrastructure money. We will definitely be looking into ways to see if the city can capture some money back,” said Copeland.

While many in the region were hoping to see the province finally commit to twinning and upgrading Highway 28, Copeland fears the project is not in the government's plans for the next five years.

The province has earmarked $892 million for highway twinning, widening and expansion projects over the next five years, with $169 million of that to be spent in 2016-17. Exact details of where that money is going to be spent have yet to be divulged. The only funding committed to Highway 28 is for a roundabout to be located west of Waskatenau.

“The feeling I'm getting from the bureaucrats is that Highway 28 still continues to be the forgotten highway. I am not seeing much buzz about it and that is disappointing,” said Copeland. “It will be kind of depressing if Highway 28 is not even in the plans for the next five years.”

Provincial dollars for a regional waterline is another item on the local wish list that is also a giant question mark. The government has committed to spending $400 million on water and wastewater projects over the next five years with $80 million committed for 2016-17. While Bonnyville was able to get a $350,000 grant to start preliminary work on the waterline, no significant funding has been guaranteed.