By Jensen, Randy on April 11, 2020.
While the City of Lethbridge and its residents must in the short term continue efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, everyone must also start thinking about impending challenges of the post-pandemic recovery.
Mayor Chris Spearman told those tuning in to the Southern Alberta Council of Public Affairs weekly speaker series via YouTube livestream on Thursday that now was not the time to get complacent, and that residents should continue to practise social distancing and self-isolation for at least the coming month, or perhaps more, to ensure transmission of the disease remains low. After that, if the disease has peaked, he said there will need to be serious thought put into the City’s economic recovery, and people’s deferred bills and taxes will have to be paid.
“There isn’t a free ride being offered by the province or they are not encouraging municipalities to provide forgiveness,” he warned.
So with the recognition these bills must be paid, said Spearman, comes the recognition the City and the province must do everything they can to help stimulate the economy and get people back to work. He pointed to city council’s recent decision to go ahead with the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden’s community facility build and 3 Avenue South reconstruction project, which are both funded by City-controlled Capital Improvement Plan grants, as the means to provide such stimulus.
But Spearman also had his eyes on provincial and federal stimulus dollars for local capital projects of a much greater scope to supplement the City’s economic recovery efforts.
“Municipalities have been asked to recommend stimulus projects to the provincial government, and we certainly have been encouraging those that are shovel-ready, in other words the plans or designs must be ready to go,” he said. “The Lethbridge Exhibition project is one that would be looked at. The emphasis from the province is going to be on projects which provide lasting economic stimulus going forward, quality jobs, and ones which will help regenerate the economy.
“One of the advantages we have in the city of Lethbridge,” Spearman continued, “is we have a diversified economy largely based on agriculture. Anything we can do to create assets which support additional economic development in agriculture, and can provide quality jobs for agricultural processing, and make sure there are opportunities for the local farming community to grow products which will feed new industries, certainly would be looked upon favourably.
“The (provincial) government is very definitely telling municipalities that the projects that will be funded going forward are the ones that become economic catalysts,” Spearman added.
Spearman said the Exhibition expansion project would likely fit the bill to provide that sort of stimulus, and so to would the airport.
“Between the Exhibition project and the airport, we believe those two projects are linked,” he explained. “You can’t have a successful facility at the Exhibition without a successful airport. And we believe economic development at the airport is one of the paths forward for economic development in the city.”
After speaking at SACPA, Spearman heard later in the morning the Kenney government would be providing an initial capital stimulus package of $2 billion for projects in areas of provincial jurisdiction, and not local projects like the Exhibition or the airport, for the time being.
During the City’s briefing on the COVID-19 crisis at 1 p.m., Spearman put the best possible face on that announcement by pointing out there was a very large bridge which was a provincial responsibility crossing the Oldman River on Highway 3 which both the previous NDP government, and Kenney himself during the provincial election campaign last year, had pledged to rebuild. After being elected, Premier Kenney backed away from his previous commitment and withdrew all promised funding for it in the province’s five-year capital plan.
“I will be writing a letter this afternoon to the Minister of Infrastructure and the Minister of Transportation saying there are provincial assets in the City of Lethbridge which would require attention,” stated Spearman. “Top of mind, of course, is the Hwy. 3 bridge. The reason why that one needs attention is because of the non-standard on-ramp from the west side. That is a safety issue. We want to make sure that is on their radar. So if they are looking at the $2 billion, there’s a $100-million project.”
Spearman also said there were two extremely dangerous railway crossings which the province could contemplate upgrading.
The province-owned railway crossing at 30 Street and Hwy. 3 is considered one of the most dangerous in Canada, Spearman said.
“That is either the number one or number two rail crossing in Canada in terms of accidents; so that one, and the one on the connecting road between Hwy. 4 and Hwy. 3 – that is also a provincial crossing, and that one also should be upgraded to current (safety) standards,” he said.
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