Jason Kenney, premier of Alberta, was in Lethbridge this past Tuesday to announce that his government was earmarking $27.8 million for EXolution, a 268,000 square foot trade centre to be located at Exhibition Park.
The funding will cover only a portion of the project’s total $70 million estimated costs, so until the municipal and federal governments kick in some funding (in addition to any financing), it will remain unbuilt, despite planning and advocacy work from Exhibition Park spanning over 15 years.
If it does get built, however, EXolution would expand Exhibition Park’s ability to host events, including larger and more robust trade shows and industry conferences.
The expansion will roughly double attendee capacity to about 7,000 people. It would allow Exhibition Park to increase the number of trade shows they host to 75 from 55 and conferences from 3 to 8. In 2018, Exhibition park turned away 77 events because of capacity and logistical limitations.
In addition, according to Kenney’s announcement, the project could provide “enhanced incubation opportunities for local producers to build their business and sell their products nationally and internationally.” The project’s website was silent on what those incubation opportunities would look like.
The province claims that the project will create 400 construction jobs; although the project website claims 360. Remember, though, that construction jobs are project-based, with workers moving from project to project. While it’s likely that brand new workers will be hired to work on the 22-month construction contract, many of the workers will be working on other construction projects right now and once this one is complete. So, it’s misleading to say that these are 400 (or even 360) brand new jobs.
Regardless, once the project is complete, it will eventually lead to the equivalent of 50 full-time jobs. It’s unclear how many of those will be part-time and whether it includes students in Lethbridge College’s culinary arts program, who’ll be performing labour at Exhibition Park as part of their hands-on academic programme.
Perhaps coincidentally, three of the current board members of the Exhibition Park board have donated to the UCP party or its predecessors.
Bruce Galts, the current president, donated $450 to the Cardston–Taber–Warner PC constituency association in 2009, $450 to the Lethbridge–West PC constituency association in 2013, and $300 to Greg Weadick’s failed election campaign in 2015. His company, Galko Homes, donated over $18,000 between 2008 and 2013 to the PC party, multiple PC constituency associations within Southern Alberta, and several PC candidates. Galts is connected to nearly $20,000 in political donations.
Mike Davis, the past president of the board, has no records of personal political donations; however, his family’s company, Davis Auto Group—where he’s the dealer principal—donated $950 to the Cardston–Taber–Warner PC constituency association in 2009, $1,000 to the Lethbridge–East PC constituency association in 2011, $500 to Weadick’s 2012 election campaign, and $1,425 to the PC party in 2013. John Davis, the company’s founder and Mike’s father, donated $500 to Brian Jean’s UCP leadership bid in 2017. Finally, the company donated $35,000 to Shaping Alberta’s Future in 2018, a political action committee designed to raise money for UCP election campaign. That was the fourth-largest donation to the PAC and the largest from Lethbridge. So between himself, his father, and his family’s business, Davis is connected to nearly $40,000 in political donations to the UCP party or its predecessors.