Why the UCP are investing $40M into postsecondary infrastructure

The government will be shelling out over $39M for 6 projects. They claim the projects will lead to 228 jobs. But there are 3 things to keep in mind.

Last month, the provincial government announced that they’d be spending over $3 million to upgrade infrastructure at Keyano College.

Normally, being based in Lethbridge, I wouldn’t write a news story about an announcement local to Fort McMurray, but I’ve noticed a recent trend with similar announcements.

This is the latest announcement regarding upgrades to HVAC systems in post-secondary institutions in Alberta. I’ve already covered the promise of over $3 million on Lethbridge College’s HVAC system, as well as $20 million for the one at the University of Lethbridge.

In addition to those two—and Keyano’s upgrades—the government announced $5 million for Red Deer College to upgrade their HVAC, electrical, water, and sewage infrastructure; announced over $8 million to upgrade the HVAC system at NAIT; and announced $850,000 for Medicine Hat College to replace their electrical substation.

All 6 upgrade projects were announced last month, 5 of them within the same week.

Combined, the government will be shelling out roughly $40 million for these projects. They also claim that the projects will lead to a collective 228 jobs.

But with this collections of similar announcements comes 3 things to keep in mind.

First, these 228 jobs will be trade jobs.

There’s nothing subpar about trade jobs. They’re legitimate jobs that are critical to both the economy and a functioning society in general. Except, it’s not really their legitimacy that’s the issue: it’s how they’re exploited to push an agenda.

These won’t be 228 permanent jobs; they’ll be 228 temporary contract jobs. The workers who’ll fill out the crews on these projects are likely working on other projects right now. When those are done, they’ll move onto these new projects, and when these projects are finished, there’ll be other projects to move onto.

Sure, there may be a handful of apprentices or other new workers who join the crews, but the majority will likely be people who are already working. So, while it’s true that these projects will provide some work for a few months for 228 workers, they’re not creating 228 jobs. The number of unemployed people in Alberta won’t decrease significantly while these projects are underway, and because of these projects.

Second, these announcements are a way to play to the UCP base of blue-collar workers. They “create” hundreds of blue-collar jobs with—undeniably—needed infrastructure upgrades. And because they’re spending tens of millions of dollars at universities and colleges, it seems as though they’re investing in postsecondary education.

Which brings me to the third thing we must remember: every one of these 6 postsecondary institutions has faced budgets cuts.

The University of Lethbridge is losing out on over $20 million leading up to 2023. Lethbridge College had to cut over $3 million from its operating budget. Red Deer College has lost nearly $5 million in funding since last autumn. Medicine Hat College lost $6.5 million in funding, leading to nearly 50 layoffs and the suspension of 5 programmes. NAIT, the institution that set off this story, has had to lay off 1 in 3 employees because of provincial funding cuts. Finally, Keyano College laid off 93 staff so far this year and had their budget cut by $3 million.

The provincial government is spending less on these much needed infrastructure upgrades than the amount they’ve cut in funding from these universities and colleges. And the 228 trades jobs are significantly lower than the hundreds of jobs lost at the 6 institutions because of cuts to provincial funding.

The UCP are not investing in post-secondary education.

Support independent journalism

By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

Comment on this story

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: