A tiny Southern Alberta community may sue the provincial government after the sudden cancellation of a long-planned $122-million police training facility for which work is already under way in Fort Macleod.
Opposition parties say Wednesday’s flip-flop by the governing Tories amounts to “fiscal incompetence” and “political gamesmanship.” The province is about to release its first-quarter budget update, which is expected to be hit hard by low commodity prices.
For Fort Macleod, population 3,000, where up to 100 permanent new jobs were expected from the project, the decision is much more personal.
“They have stripped the morale out of this community,” Mayor Shawn Patience said. “This is obviously politically driven.”
The Alberta Public Safety and Law Enforcement Training Centre has been contemplated since 1999. Almost six years ago, Ralph Klein’s Tory government selected Fort Macleod – the first permanent post of the North West Mounted Police – as the best place in the province to train about 1,400 new recruits annually. Funding was promised.
Ground was officially broken last year when Ed Stelmach was premier, and just last month, his successor, Alison Redford, awarded the construction contract to Bird Design-Build Construction Inc., and Stantec Architecture Ltd. released its designs for the 138-hectare site. A work camp is already set up and the town is halfway through installation of service lines in anticipation of the 2014 opening.
But on Wednesday, Alberta Solicitor-General and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis called Mr. Patience to break the news, and then issued a press release.
“This was an extremely tough decision,” Mr. Denis said in a statement. “But in the end, Albertans expect their tax dollars to be invested wisely and the government is committed to this goal.”
The province said “concerns about utilization” were raised, which prompted the government to reach out to police agencies for their input; it concluded that a single, stand-alone facility would not be “financially viable.”
The government press release included comments from Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson, Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht and RCMP K Division Commanding Officer Dale McGowan in support of the government decision. Police said they already had adequate training at existing facilities.
Despite the starts and stalls on the project, this was the first time Mr. Patience had heard concerns about amount of use. His town council is seeking legal advice.
“My community has suffered a tremendous wrong and I will ... make sure it’s righted,” Mr. Patience said.
The Liberal and NDP opposition parties accused the Tory government of pulling the plug simply because Fort Macleod is in the riding of Livingstone-Macleod, which voted for the Wildrose Party in last April’s provincial election. The riding’s Wildrose MLA, Pat Stier, said the government led the region to believe the college was coming, and important, but is now left “devastated.”
Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner will update the state of the province’s finances on Thursday, but since oil and gas prices have been well below government estimates, it may mean an even larger deficit position than the $886-million forecast. Mr. Horner hasn’t ruled out spending cuts as a way to balance the books by 2013-14.