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Alberta Election: Calgary Transit Green Line’s future funding unclear

As Calgary city council continues to revise its plans for the Green Line, there is very little talk about it by provincial leaders in week two of the Alberta election.

Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating, chair of the city’s transportation and transit committee, called on all three major parties to firm up their commitment to the project, particularly on Phase 2 funding, which is planned to start in 2027.

In November 2018, the NDP government pledged $200 million a year to transit projects starting in 2027, but the city would have to finalize it with a future provincial government.

“Ideally, we need to hear from all parties that they’re willing to explore additional funding on top of that, because that funding alone isn’t going to be enough,” said Jeff Binks, president of LRT on the Green.

Keating said that while the NDP came out with that plan a year ago, they have not recommitted to it, nor have the UCP committed to Phase 2.

“The NDP – the previous government – haven’t come out and said ‘look, we are sticking to our previous statements.’ The UCP hasn’t come out and said we’re looking to match,” said Keating.

“What we are hoping to see in this provincial election is a firm commitment from all parties saying that they are dedicated to completing Green Line and doing it in a timely fashion,” said Binks.

Like Keating, Binks’ main concern was Stage 2. He said that the funding for Stage 1 was relatively locked-in.

“There’s big areas of Calgary that are in desperate need of the Green Line expansion,” he said.

“A lot of people look at what’s going on with Stage 1 as a win. . .but the fact of the matter is, it’s a big win, but it’s still not enough.”

The NDP has said that the project will be funded by the carbon tax, which the UCP has promised to repeal.

UCP leader Jason Kenney told the CBC in January he was still committed to the Green Line, and insisted it could be funded without the carbon tax. Reached for comment, the UCP called Kenney’s interview from that time “definitive.”

“I reject the premise that the carbon tax is funding those projects,” Kenney told CBC.

“That is just a political accounting gimmick. There is one general revenue fund for the Province of Alberta that all revenues go into, including carbon tax revenues.”

Binks, however, expressed concern that the carbon tax’s elimination would have an effect on Phase 2.

Keating said that the question of how the province would fund the Green Line was irrelevant.

“Jason Kenney has already come out and said that he will honour the funding, so that’s not an issue,” said Keating.

“Where it comes from is up to the provincial government.”

Alberta Party MLA Rick Fraser says that his party will fight for the Green Line, even if it includes modifying, rather than abolishing, the provincial carbon tax, keeping it on heavy emitters.

“In my experience seven years being elected, the longer we wait to build these things, the more expensive they become,” he said.

“The NDP have created a situation with quite a bit of debt. We’re going to have to figure out how we pay for the Green Line.”

Fraser represents Calgary-Southeast, a riding which the Green Line would run straight through.

“We have the youngest demographic, those kids are going to need that ridership, not to mention we’ve got the South Calgary Health Campus,” Fraser said.

“It’s a critical piece of infrastructure, not just to serve the families of Calgary-Southeast, but to grow our economy.”

However, Fraser was skeptical of the notion that the carbon tax paid for the project.

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

On the Alberta Party website, there is no specific mention of Green Line policy. The Alberta Liberal Party website has a petition to commit the NDP to fund their share.

Keating and Binks both noted that Alberta Liberal leader David Khan was the only one to publicly announce his support for the entire Green Line.

“We need a plan attached to [Khan’s] commitment, so that Calgarians can see quite transparently exactly how the money will flow and when construction can begin to complete the line,” said Binks.

Binks suggested an interim, short-term step for the province to follow: buying land required for the line in Calgary North.

“[It] doesn’t require a billion-dollar commitment. It’s something that can be done over the next four-year term of whatever government takes power.”

In his CBC interview, Kenney also criticized Calgary city council and the NDP government for cutting back on the project, saying that it was not the project he funded as a federal minister in 2015.

The first-quarter update to council have suggested that the Phase 1 Green Line would only reach as far north as 16 Ave N, which caused Coun. Jyoti Gondek to worry the northern part would be cut.

Keating said that while Kenney played a critical role in funding the project federally in 2015, the earlier version Kenney funded was too early in planning to compare.

“At that time, the Green Line was to go from Seton to North Point,” he said.

“The changes came about because that’s what the vast majority of public engagement and Calgarians asked for,” Keating said.

One main result of this consultation was making the line go underground at much more expense, necessitating cutbacks.

“In the core, we had very large corporations, property management who owned a lot of the office buildings and skyscrapers, they didn’t want at grade or above, they wanted it underground,” Keating explained.

“They really should have a solid public transit plan, regardless of wondering why it’s shorter, because I think that knowledge is well known why it’s shorter.”

Fraser said that the partisan attacks did not help the project.

“If everybody’s going to cut all sorts of attacks on the other side, where are we generating the revenue to build these types of infrastructure?”