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Meet Senator

Grant Mitchell

The Hon. Grant  Mitchell, B.A., M.A., C.F.A. Senator Grant Mitchell has had careers in the public service, business and politics in Alberta. He was appointed by former Prime Minister Paul Martin in March, 2005.

Statements & Hansard

Edmonton's Bid for Expo 2017

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Statement made on 09 December 2010 by Senator Grant Mitchell

Hon. Grant Mitchell:

Honourable senators, I want to address this inquiry and support the comments of Senator Banks and Senator Tardif. It seems that we cannot say enough if we are to have any hope whatsoever of getting through to this government and assisting them in understanding exactly what they have done to Edmonton, to Alberta and to the prospects of Canada in this project.

The most profoundly disturbing feature for me is the depth of lost opportunities. The world knows that these kinds of expositions are often transformative for the host countries and the host cities. One only needs to look at Vancouver in 1986 and what that event did to catapult, compound and enhance the evolution of that city's presence in the world. That presence, in and of itself, is a lost opportunity for Edmonton, which is a world-class city but has so much more promise than it has yet realized.

This particular exposition proposal by the City of Edmonton embodied another profoundly important opportunity that was captured in its theme of energy in our time. A problem is building for the Alberta energy industry, in particular the oil sands, because the world does not understand properly the importance of that oil sands project to secure and safe oil that can be extracted in an environmentally sound manner.

In many ways the oil sands are already leaders in the world in that respect. That is not good enough; they still have more to do. This exposition would give Alberta and Edmonton a chance to showcase our energy industry in a way that is often not seen around the world — in an environmental context of strong environmental initiative and desire to do even more to strengthen that environmental initiative. Such an opportunity does not come along frequently. The 2017 World Expo would have given us the chance to grasp an opportunity and do something for that industry and for Canada.

I hope that this government will not last long enough to cause much more damage to our international reputation. It will take time for that reputation to be recovered. A well structured exposition — a window on the world — attracts the attention of people from around the world. A 2017 World Expo in Canada would go a long way to establishing our strength, presence and prestige in the international sphere.

Honourable senators, the 2017 exposition could have been the anchor for Canada's one hundred and fiftieth birthday celebrations. Remember 1967 when Expo 67 brought Canadians together from across the country to celebrate the wonder and marvel of this country and its accomplishments. The one hundred and fiftieth anniversary is equally significant, and yet this government has proposed nothing. There seems to be nothing in the works whatsoever to celebrate that event in a significant way. The 2017 World Expo was an obvious opportunity to act as the anchor for Canada's one hundred and fiftieth birthday celebrations.

Edmonton, Alberta and Canada missed the chance to have that celebration: to convey the message about what a remarkable place Canada is in general; and specifically to demonstrate how much we are doing in the energy industry for the world and within an environmental context. The event would also focus our attention in Canada and in Alberta on doing more for the environment to ensure that our presentation of those energy resources was within the highest possible environmentally sound context. All of that opportunity is lost.

The government will say that it is a question of money. If it is a question of money, it is only a question of money because this government has been so fundamentally incompetent in managing the fiscal regime of this country. There has been an $80 billion increase in expenditures since it became government. That is a 40-per-cent increase in expenditures by a hard-nosed right wing government that said it could manage government in a fiscally responsible manner; but all of the evidence is to the contrary. It will spend $16 billion — they say $16 billion but we know it will be more — on jets that they have accepted without a tendering process.

What kind of fiscal responsibility is that? The government squandered a good portion of $1.3 billion on the G8 and G20 because they cannot manage even that kind of project. The government will spend billions of dollars to build prisons that will not make us safer but in fact, will make us less safe.

What is the Prime Minister's leadership response to all of that? He increases his office budget by 30 per cent over two years. Of course, he did have leadership in that regard.

Senator Mercer: Where is he from?

Senator Mitchell: He is from Alberta.

Senator Mercer: He is from Calgary.

Senator Mitchell: We will not go there because Calgary is a fine city as well.

The Prime Minister provided leadership to his cabinet, which increased expenditures by 16 per cent. Honourable senators can see where the fiscal responsibility hens have come home to roost, as it were; and Edmonton, Alberta, is paying the price for a government that literally has squandered money.

I cannot neglect to mention the United Arab Emirates issue, whereby $300 million was lost because of fundamental international relations incompetence. That $300 million would have gone a long way in support of the 2017 World Expo.

Let us talk about the specific money involved in the project. The amount of $700 million for capital expenditures and other support would be required from the federal government. The federal government said that the figure would be over $1 billion. The difference is about $300 million to $400 million, which the government attributes to security costs. Even if that were the figure for security costs, those would not be entirely the responsibility of the federal government. The federal government would be responsible for about 10 per cent of them but in fact those are not the security costs. The security costs are $91 million estimated in 2017 dollars, which would be about $11 million for the federal government, bringing their financial responsibility and contribution in this project to just over $700 million.

That is not an insignificant amount of money. Certainly, it is not an insignificant amount of money when one sees how much money the government has squandered by its fiscal incompetence. However, if one considers that it is not money that is required tomorrow, it will be spread out over seven or eight years. That sounds to me like $100 million a year.

This government, with its 27 Alberta members of Parliament, who you would think would be able to represent their province at least to the tune of $100 million a year, has completely and utterly let down that province, Alberta and Edmonton, and that project, for what is not an insurmountable amount of money.

Moreover, this money will be loaded at the later end — 2015 to 2017 will be a huge portion of it, and the government has said that they will balance the budget around 2014 or 2015. Does their reluctance to at least project that they could have money in 2015 to 2017 for this project suggest they do not have confidence in the projection that they would balance the budget by 2014 and have three years of presumably surplus budgets to fund this project? That is in itself a startling and ominous kind of observation that perhaps this government is just spinning its 2014 balanced budget objective.

Senator Day: That is my guess.

Senator Mitchell: Honourable senators, the other element that is disturbing is simply the way in which Edmontonians and Albertans have been treated. The minister responsible for this area was very encouraging, and in fact very explicitly encouraging to Edmonton. After Edmonton believed what this government said — Mr. Moore — they created a strong group to develop the proposal and have worked on that for several years. They spent a good deal of money in the process of developing that proposal and they were denied federal involvement and contribution with absolutely no warning. To make matters worse, the organizing committee and others had requested a meeting with Minister Ambrose on numerous occasions over an extended period of time and she simply did not have the decency to meet with them. How is it that the minister would not even meet with this important group working on this important project? What does it take?

Then, when she received the proposal, there was no effort made for them to sit down and talk about differences of opinions or assessments about the figures to determine ways in which this project might have been worked out. No, this was denial by fiat; not even the common decency to deal with the people of Edmonton, the mayor of Edmonton, the City of Edmonton in a way that was not rude, but in a way that was polite, respectful and at least try to demonstrate some understanding of the aspirations of that city.

Honourable senators, I am hearing some heckling from the leader here and it really underlines the kind of attitude that Edmontonians exactly confronted in that process. Why would Minister Ambrose not have met with them? It is absolutely true.

Then one asks the question: How is it that they could have done it in this way? How is it that they could have done it when in fact the expense is not all that onerous and when it is needed we will, if we believe the Minister of Finance, in fact have the money to do it? Why would they treat Edmontonians in this way? It is, I think, that the answer lies in politics. The things this government is competent at are political spin, politics and political strategy.

It is very advantageous politically for the Prime Minister to say to Albertans and Edmontonians that he will not give Edmonton this money. What does that do for him politically? It sends a message across the country that he is very tough on expenditure. It is an effort to obscure that fact that he has spent more money than any government in the history of this country. We have a record deficit in the history of this country, but it is an effort to spin away from that, distract people from that and send a message that he is a tough money manager. That is what he does at the expense of Edmontonians.

Of course, it also sends a message to those cities across the country that might want to get assistance from the federal government for their hockey arenas.

Honourable senators, let me mention that this is very different from a hockey arena. As I said, this is a question of aspirations and opportunities for the people of Edmonton, the people of Alberta and ultimately the people of Canada. This is a remarkable project that would establish Canada's and Edmonton's and Alberta's presence in the world. It would reclaim some of our stature in the world and it would send a strong message about our commitment to environmentally sustainable energy in the future.

Instead, this government has sacrificed all of that, not for some higher level principle, not even a way that would be considerate of the feelings and the aspirations of the people of Edmonton and the people of Alberta; no, in a brutal, rude and inconsiderate way that puts this government's, this party's, the Prime Minister's political interests ahead of the aspirations of the people who he represents in that province. It is disgraceful and it is enormously unfortunate. I hope there is some way we can prevail upon this government to reconsider and do what is right by this project for the people of Alberta, Canada and Edmonton.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

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