BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Not much of a myth

Conservative candidate Mel Arnold defended the party’s track-record when it comes to economic recovery

During last Friday’s forum at Okanagan College, Conservative candidate Mel Arnold defended the party’s track-record when it comes to economic recovery, and particularly ensuring that infrastructure renewal is part of job creation.

“Last year, almost $17 million went into local communities,” he told the crowd of the federal government’s investment.

However, it was his next comment that likely raised a few eyebrows: “It’s a myth that we have an infrastructure deficit.”

Huh? No infrastructure deficit?

If that’s the case, why have most municipalities been making so much noise about the issue?

And particularly, in 2013, the City of Vernon launched a strategy to tackle an $80 million deficit for infrastructure that’s past its life expectancy.

“We are getting our house in order,” said Will Pearce, chief administrative officer, at the time.

The lifespan of all city assets — roads, underground pipes, sidewalks, buildings, etc. — was 47 years and the average remaining life was 51 per cent.

In 2013, Vernon projected that about $17 million a year was needed for renewal, including $8.4 million for roads and $4.5 million for the sewer system.

More recently, the District of Lake Country indicated this May that  it has a $30 million backlog of needed road improvements.

The funding shortfall to deal with the situation is about $1.5 million annually.

“This is our challenge as a community,” said Greg Bucholz, Lake Country’s infrastructure services director, in an article.

“A lot of our roads were built in the 1970’s or earlier and they are starting to come to the end of their lifespan and we need to reconstruct.”

Puzzled by Arnold’s suggestion that the infrastructure deficit is a myth, a call was placed to the candidate for clarification.

“Myth may have not been the correct word,” he said during an interview Monday.

“We will never have all of the infrastructure we need.”

Through further discussion, Arnold elaborated that while there are a number of projects needing attention, taxpayers at all levels of government have finite financial resources and can only take on so much.

“We can’t continuously go into deficit and debt for infrastructure. It has to be paid for.”

That’s very true as the buck ultimately stops with taxpayers, however, the reality is that potholes in the streets need to be fixed, sewer lines must be kept running and there are increasing demands for water treatment in all communities. Other forms of infrastructure have also been neglected over the decades, and one just has to look at Vernon’s cultural amenities for an example.

All levels of government need to be creative and find ways to push ahead with much-needed capital improvements. In the case of the City of Vernon, it has mandated an annual 1.9 per cent tax hike as a way of partially addressing the problem. Perhaps Ottawa could do the same with the gas tax revenue, which it already doles out to local jurisdictions but with specific conditions (presently, spending is all over the map).

We’ve all used the wrong word, especially in the heat of the moment, so I appreciated Arnold’s clarification.

However, the infrastructure deficit is very much a reality and one that none of us can ignore.