Calgary Mayor Nenshi and local MP Michelle Rempel at odds over who is responsible for the shrunken Green Line
Nenshi points the finger.
As usual, someone else would carry the can for the Green Line LRT, now a 20 km shrunken version of its 46 km former self, with a $4.65-billion price tag and now neither going to the city’s far north or deep southeast as originally planned.
Yes, for the mayor, it would be the former federal Conservative government in the doghouse, the ones who committed a billion and a half bucks two years ago, one-third of what the city said was the Green Line tab.
Nenshi speaks on the issue during all the hand-wringing over the Green Line LRT earlier this week at city council.
This past weekend, MP Michelle Rempel, who represents a north Calgary federal riding, wanted answers about the shrinking of the Green Line.
Rempel wanted to know what happened to the biggest single federal government investment ever made in Calgary.
Rempel was a cabinet minister in the Harper government and was at the announcement of all those dollars on a day Nenshi called “historic.”
It doesn’t sound so historic two years later.
The mayor tells reporters of something he finds “sort of ironic and funny” about the Green Line story.
“The city had been planning for a long time to build the whole network as a bus rapid transit network,” says Nenshi.
The mayor tells us the federal Conservative government of the day, including Rempel and others, offered the city cash just before the 2015 election to take the project to the LRT stage.
They wanted to know the cost.
“It was actually their own doing to push this thing forward so we gave them a number based on a surface alignment on the Centre St. bridge and through downtown,” says Nenshi.
That was $4.6 billion. The feds ponied up a third of that.
Then, says Nenshi, the city did a lot of engineering and consulting work on the plans and the costs ballooned and we are where we are.
It’s $4.65 billion for the shrunken line from 16 Ave. N. to Shepard.
It’s an estimated $2.36 billion more to finish the north leg. We’re at $7 billion.
Finishing the rest of the south could put the price tag in the neighbourhood of $8 billion or more. Interest on the debt is ballparked at $56 million a year.
Nenshi takes a swipe at Rempel.
“So it’s a bit funny for a member of that government, who started all of this without any studies, to criticize us for actually doing the studies.”
You read it right. Nenshi is biting the hand that fed him.
“There’s nothing funny or ironic about a $1.5-billion investment in public transit for Calgary,” she replies. “To the taxpayers of my riding I find it quite condescending to use the word funny. There’s nothing funny about this.
“Something happened here that, pardon the pun, took this project off the rails. Somebody needs to be held accountable.”
The north Calgary MP insists federal cash was for the full line. Full stop.
“That was the announcement we made,” says Rempel.
“The federal government decided to make that funding announcement because it was a complete north-to-south route.
“To try and somehow blame a funding partner who gave the city basically everything they asked for is concerning. I don’t think any Calgarian is going to buy that.
“I don’t understand the argument. If the city asked for this money and they got it, who’s at fault here? I’ve never heard of somebody blaming a funder for getting what they want. It’s odd.”
Rempel says the city needs to be careful implying they gave a major funder incomplete information especially since they still have to go to the NDP government for cash to complete the shrunken line.
Then there’s the billions needed to one day finish the line.
A newshound asks Nenshi if Rempel’s criticism of the city’s handling of this LRT is over the line.
“Well, you know, politicians will do what politicians do,” says the mayor.
“Politicians have their own ambition. I am moved by evidence and data.”
Is this Green Line story now done, too bad, so sad, move on to something else?
“No,” says Rempel, in a tone where you’d think it would be a good idea to stay tuned.