Killing $2B GreenTrip fund could drive away urban votes
There's plenty to like about Danielle Smith and the Wildrose party. Smith is smart, tough, charismatic. She will stand up for Alberta's oilsands and provincial interests. She is also strong when it comes to issues of personal freedom.
All that said, the Wildrose position on mass transit is strangely out of touch with city voters, as well as unfair to them. If it were implemented, it would be a major blow to Calgary and Edmonton.
Smith evidently wants to take us back to the uninspired Klein era, when rapid transit development stalled. The attitude of the Klein gang was that mass transit was for elitist cities with fancy pants aspirations, that no one wanted mass transit in Alberta, at least no one who counted. The vision of the day was to roll down the open highway in a big truck or SUV with not a traffic light to slow you down from Leth-bridge to High Level.
But this hugely expensive approach hit an epic pothole. You can't spend enough billions in public funds to build enough overpasses, ring roads and arteries to rid a city or a region of its congestion. And as the traffic jams got ugly in the down-town Calgary commute in the 2000s, the hunger for mass transit grew, so much so that it represented a rare political triumph for the Stelmach government to bring in the $2-bil-lion GreenTrip plan.
GreenTrip is now building transit lines in Calgary and Edmonton, with $497 mil-lion going into the new NAIT LRT line.
Premier Alison Redford has gone on the record repeatedly to voice her support for Green-Trip funding. Indeed, in her commitment to mass transit, Redford comes across as strong and as fierce as Smith does on any of her own staunch policy stances.
But Smith on transit? Way too old school.
As part of its revamping of provincial funding of Alberta's cities and towns, the Wildrose would axe the Green-Trip program.
The overall Wildrose plan is to get rid of the numerous ways the province now funds municipalities and replace it with a single plan, the Community Infrastructure Transfer. This program would distribute 10 per cent of all provincial tax revenues and 10 per cent of all budget surpluses to the municipalities.
This scheme looks sensible enough, but is Wildrose really going to ask rural areas to pay for all their roads and highways out of this transfer? More likely, the province will continue to pay for and maintain all those necessary rural transportation links, as is only right.
But, as is only right, the province should also keep paying for necessary transportation links in the cities, such as LRT. If it pays for one type of transportation infrastructure, but chops the other, that's not acceptable.
"It would be a monstrous inequity between urban and rural," says Edmonton Coun. Don Iveson, head of the Capital Region Board's transportation committee.
"The province would no doubt continue to build highways in rural areas, but the LRT is the equivalent of a highway to Edmontonians and Calgarians as far as how many are able to get to work and get to school and get to markets on it."
Smith does talk about funding some regional transit: commuter rail lines in from the outer communities, such as Okotoks near Calgary, and Leduc near Edmonton. Not a bad idea, but this notion was looked at and rejected by the Capital Region Board when it made its new plan for the region's transportation needs for the next 30 years.
A regional commuter line helps you get in and out of the city in one or two directions but not around the city.
"For bang-for-buck and maximum benefit, the thinking was that expanding LRT and linking it with express buses from the region was of the greatest mutual benefit," Iveson says.
The GreenTrip program isn't just popular with urban elitists. It's popular with folks in the towns and counties.
The vote for the LRT-region-al plan was unanimous, 24 out of 24 members, with full backing from the reps from Devon, Beaumont, Bon Ac-cord, Bruderheim, Fort Saskatchewan, Lamont, Gibbons, Legal, Leduc, Parkland, Strathcona, Sturgeon, Spruce Grove, Thorsby, Wabamun and Warburg.
Perhaps the Wildrose has calculated that it can win Alberta by isolating the Edmonton region and taking Calgary and rural Alberta, the old Klein coalition.
But I can't see how taking an axe to C-Train funding is going be a winner in Calgary. Voters there recently elected an avid pro-transit mayor in Naheed Nenshi.
The platforms are crafted. The promises planned. Now it is up to voters to decide which party's campaign best fits with their vision of Alberta. To help, the Journal will track the five major party's promises throughout the 2012 campaign. View the plat-form tracker online at edmonton-journal.com/election.
Here's a look at where party leaders plan to campaign on Wednesday. Not all leaders' itineraries were available.
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman - 10 a.m. Red Deer, campaign headquarters for Red Deer North candidate Michael Dawe, 5417 Gaetz Ave., medical training announcement
- 1: 30 p.m. Edmonton, West End Seniors Activity Centre, 9629 176th St. NW, health forum panel, followed by 2: 30 p.m. announcement re: accessible seniors' services
PC Leader Alison Redford
- 9: 50 a.m. Suncor tour, Fort McMurray.
- 1: 05 p.m. MacDonald Island Library, 151 MacDonald Dr.
- 2 p.m. Holy Trinity High School, 230 Powder Dr.
- 3: 05 Tim Hortons, 9701 Hardin St.
- 5: 30 p.m. United Way, Fireside Room, MacDonald Island Park, 151 MacDonald Dr.
- 6: 30 p.m. Opening ceremonies for Father Mercredi Catholic High School Science and Technology Centre, 455 Silin Forest Rd.
- 7: 15 p.m.: Don Scott campaign office, 160 MacLennan Cres.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith
- 9: 15 a.m. Edmonton, 10800-97th Ave. NW, remarks on campaign platform
- 11: 20 a.m. Redwater, Noreen and Friends Diner, 4919 49th St., serving customers
- 2 p.m. St. Paul, St Paul's Curling Club, 4803 52nd St., curling with seniors
- 5: 35 p.m. Fort Saskatchewan, 555018 RR 200, Speaking to sup-porters at party event
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Edmonton Journal, Wed Mar 28 2012