Four future Calgary rec centres dealt setback as Ottawa denies funding
An angry array of community organizations and city council members are castigating the Harper government, accusing it of political interference after it refused to help fund four new recreation centres in Calgary, leaving the projects in tatters.
The city has been banking on between $82 million and $100 million worth of help from PPP Canada, a brainchild of the Conservative government, which funds up to one-quarter of major infrastructure projects that use the public-private partnership model.
In an extraordinary press conference Thursday, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said even though the board of the independent Crown corporation unanimously approved the funding in the spring, the federal government is now refusing to hand over any money.
He brandished a three-paragraph letter received Thursday morning from PPP Canada, which stated funding has been declined for Calgary.
“Obviously this comes as a surprise to all of us, as a shock to all of us, and we think Calgarians deserve a better response than this,” Nenshi said.
“Calgarians deserve a rationale to what has happened here.
“The question in our minds and in everyone’s minds: why did the government of Canada change its mind so drastically?”
It is a major setback for the three proposed rec centres in the southeast and one in the northwest, and Nenshi is demanding an explanation from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Groups that have been pushing for new rec centres in the desperately underserved city were apoplectic.
They, along with local aldermen, vented Thursday, accusing the federal Tories of taking Calgary votes for granted, adding this latest decision appears to show they don’t care about the city.
With tears in his eyes, Paul Sinclair, the head of the northwest community advisory group, said he arrived at city hall Thursday believing there would be good news.
“This is a slap in the face of all Calgarians,” he said.
Ald. Shane Keating, whose ward would take three of the rec centres, went even further accusing federal Tory politicians of taking Calgary votes for granted, adding he believes it was political interference that scuttled the deal.
He pointed out the federal government has set aside $2 billion for P3 projects, but has spent less than $200 million so far.
Tens of thousands of Calgary children, he said, will now suffer because of the decision.
“Along the line, somewhere, somehow, someone had a different opinion or different vie of what P3 Canada supposed to be. And unfortunately that individual opinion has surpassed whatever is written and whatever is intended with the whole project,” he said.
The city is proposing to build three of the rec centres in the underserved southeast, and one in the northwest – with a total price tag of roughly $430 million.
For weeks, speculation has been swirling the funding would not come through. It was confirmed on Thursday.
It is a significant development, and particularly hits the southeast, where local aldermen have lobbied hard for one mega-complex and two smaller ones.
The large facilities are planned for Seton, near the new south hospital, and just north of the northwest’s Royal Oak community. The other two southeast rec centres are planned for Quarry Park and the Great Plains industrial area.
Reaction from the city and community leaders is expected to be furious, and it got its start early on Twitter.
"Is this another Portrait Gallery? After two years of planning and $2 million investment, refusal at eleventh hour," Ald. Druh Farrell wrote, referring to Ottawa's move to cancel a possible western location for a national portrait gallery.
"Great nothing for the NW again!" realtor Paul Walsh wrote on the social-networking website.