It’s a fascinating situation. Last evening at 6:30 PM, a very odd time for a news conference, Jeff Johnson, Alberta’s newly minted Infrastructure Minister announced that the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) project was being put on “hold”. He blamed the Federal government, who he said had withdrawn a $92 million committment to the museum project.
But Federal Minister Rona Ambrose says that all that the federal government had ever committed was $30 million, and that is still on the table. Apparently, an additional $92 million was discussed, but never promised. Today, the feds confirmed it would not be forthcoming, leading to Johnson’s hurried news conference.
But wait a minute folks. Unless I’m mistaken, the province committed their share to the museum based on a $30 million committment from the Federal government. So why bail out now? And what’s the amazing hurry? I count three hours between the bureaucrats at Alberta infrastructure getting the call from their federal counterparts and Johnson’s newser.
I can’t help also wondering about the coincidental timing, being the same day as Edmonton City Council voted to go ahead with Darrel Katz’s arena project. There’s still a $100 million hole in the funding plan for that scheme. It’s a hole that Katz and Mayor Mandel want the province to fill. But during the PC leadership race Alison Redford ruled out funding for the hockey palace, which is intended to be a for-profit business enterprise. Alberta’s NDP challenged the notion that taxpayers dollars should subsidize the business operations of billionaires, forcing the PC leadership contenders to take public positions before the vote.
But the pressure on the green and inexperienced Redford government to fund the arena is strong. The last provincial budget committed $180 million over 3 years to the RAM. If the province was off the hook for that, it could be argued that it frees up funds for the arena. And the Alberta Tories could be portrayed as stepping up to the plate to help Edmonton, unlike their Wild Rose supporting federal cousins. As a bonus, Mayor Mandel again gets to excoriate Rona Ambrose, who he blames for refusing to fund his pet project, the Expo 2017 bid.
Perhaps there is some other explanation for this sudden decision. But we need to be asking lots of questions about this strange turn of events. The hair-trigger reaction of Jeff Johnson in cancelling a signature project for Edmonton is, at the very least, irresponsible. We need to get to the bottom of it. Soon.