Bad time for Alberta to spend $275 million on building restoration

Matthew Coutts
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew

When it comes to government spending, there is no accounting for timing.

An announcement that infrastructure spending will be cut could receive cheers or jeers, depending on how many highways collapsed that week.

A decision to spend $275 million to renovate an office building could be met with a shrug in good times, or with outrage in bad.

In oil-rich Alberta, the timing is bad.

Postmedia News reports that tenders have gone out for the massive remodeling of an environmentally friendly office for MLAs and bureaucrats.

[ Related: Redford vows no tax increase, hints at doctor pay cuts ]

Critics are blasting Premier Alison Redford over the renovations, which come as she preaches the need for fiscal austerity. The province, which still doesn’t have a provincial sales tax, is facing its sixth consecutive deficit.

Said Wildrose critic Rob Anderson:

This is the type of complete fiscal ignorance that has got us into the hole that we’re in right now — this inability to put needs before wants. Clearly this is not a priority for Albertans.

A spokeswoman told Postmedia that the project is 75 per cent finished, and there was no benefit in deferring the project at this point.

Of note, the project was supposed to be done in 2011 but was delayed. Still, it is coming in about $80 million under the original budget.

[ Related: Redford says Canada should use energy powerhouse status ]

Redford told CBC News this week that an “unprecedented” slump in oil revenue is making things difficult in Alberta, but that she is still not considering introducing a provincial sales tax to make up the difference. She added that reductions to doctor and teacher salaries could come in the future.

Bad timing or not, spending $275-million to make a building fancy is bad optics when, in the next breath, you talk about cuts to health care and beyond.

In good times, no one would have even noticed the cost of restoring this building. But these are not good times in Alberta.