Budget '09: A view from the West

One big-city mayor likes what he's hearing from Ottawa

Response to today’s federal budget was slow to seep out of Western Canada today, with premiers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba still mum on what they thought of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s stimulus package. But one big city mayor, Calgary’s Dave Bronconnier, appeared pleasantly surprised with what the budget puts on the table. “There is much to like,” Bronconnier told a radio show this afternoon, part of a media blitz the mayor conducted in the wake of the budget’s release. “What I believe the government was trying to do, which is a short-term stimulus to deal with the creation of jobs. And when you look at it short-term, $4 billion for infrastructure funding, that is directed towards jobs.”

Bronconnier, part of a big-city mayor’s caucus that met with Flaherty and federal Transport Minister John Baird during consultations for the budget, had earlier worried aloud that municipalities would be forced to match federal dollars for infrastructure projects. “Yesterday we were told quietly that it could be a third, a third, a third,” he said. “Today it is up to 50 per cent on a project basis,” meaning municipalities will share the burden of infrastructure dollars with the provinces.

Calgary, which has not been immune to the economic slowdown of late—Alberta lost almost 16,000 jobs in December, according to StatsCan—will particularly benefit from the federal infrastructure influx. “From our perspective here in Calgary, we can take advantage of that because we have a very quickly softening construction market, we’ve got availability of labour and before it moves to other parts of the country, we should take advantage of that,” Bronconnier said. “I think the positive outcome from what Minister Flaherty said today was, we’re going to cut the red tape, we’re going to get money quickly into the communities to deal with quick stimulus, job creation.”

Bronconnier did, however, express disappointment that the feds didn’t earmark money for public safety—of major concern in Calgary after a spike in gang warfare resulted in a handful of homicides this month. “There is nothing,” he said, “identified in terms of the policing programs, additional support toward police, targeted gang enforcement, violent crime area, domestic violence.”