Editorial: Steady Eddy launches Stampede spending spree

By Chris Tait

The Premier shined up his boots, came in to town, scraped up almost $300 million and threw it around in what is beginning to look like a pre-election vote-shopping spree.

Taking advantage of the biggest hoedown in the province, Ed Stelmach supplemented his Stampede visit with substantial government spending, including $260 million for the University of Calgary’s Institute for Sustainability in Energy, Environment and Economy, $15 million for Stampede grounds renovations and redevelopment, and $5 million for the Meals on Wheels program.

On top of trying to hijack the Calgary Stampede for all of Alberta in a breakfast public address–not surprising, since the capital’s measly Klondike Days (now renamed Capital EX) attracts half a million fewer than its super-successful southern equivalent–Stelmach’s ride into town gained him unprecedented voter and critical support.

Why the Stampede should require such prominent provincial assistance when the federal government has already promised an immediate $15 million for the Western Legacy Project, with a probable $10 million on the way from the massive, decade-long Building Canada program is puzzling. Even armchair analysts can add up that $25 million of Ottawa’s money plus that of the more than 1.2 million Stampede attendees would probably be able to cover the costs of the redevelopment.

In the meantime, while the long-awaited contribution to U of C is welcome, it’s still less than two-thirds the amount predicted by ISEEE’s former managing director Dr. Robert Mansell to be required for the institute’s building plans.

It seems a bit of a misfire that sustainability in environment and energy–destined to be a major theme in provincial and federal politics for the next decade and a continuing center of the provincial economy–should backbench for tourism and local-level redevelopment.

If the university, falling clearly in the provincial government’s funding jurisdiction, should be left to its own devices for private sector funding to finish its projects, the Stampede, which provides enormous promotional (among other) benefits to a Calgary corporate community that would eventually cough up the dough itself, should probably be forced to do the same.

It was beginning to seem like a recurring and unfortunate theme in Stelmach’s quiet western reign: a local-level guy running a regional office. If that were the case, though, there wouldn’t be people complaining about his ineffective housing subsidies.

Disappointment with Alberta’s rent subsidy program has been starting to make headlines throughout the province, as many claimed to see fractional changes and threatened to leave the province in search of pastures charging less green.

Stelmach gave a load of cash to an enormous organization that has the means to do more than just sustain itself when he could have almost tripled the $9 million of assistance for low-cost housing given directly to tenants and had a major positive impact for senior and student voters. He flicked his coin into the fine felt hat of the already plump Stampede project when he could have tossed a few elsewhere and fulfilled his promise to significantly curb the impact of Alberta’s runaway real estate prices.

Instead of strutting into town as “Steady Eddy” the good, Stelmach made some bad decisions and stooped to make provincial funding look ugly.

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