MP fires back at Parksville mayor

With the blame game continuing between levels of government and a deadline looming, Parksville taxpayers still don't know how much the city will need to borrow to build a $37 million water treatment plant.

Nanaimo-Alberni MP James Lunney fired back this week at comments made recently by Mayor Chris Burger. The Conservative MP said the city and the province are to blame for delays in accessing federal infrastructure funding.

"The screw up has not come from the federal government," Lunney said in an interview this week (The MP also penned a letter to the editor which appears on page 11 of today edition of The NEWS.) "They (the City of Parksville) have had six years to apply for the funds — it (the water treatment plant) would have been half built by now."

A seven-year federal-provincial agreement on infrastructure funding expired last year. It was renewed this year, but Ottawa and Victoria didn't sign a deal until May. In the past, during that seven-year program, applications for funding were available for municipalities in March. The city says those application forms, which are administered through the provincial government, still aren't available.

"That's a red herring," said Lunney. "Yes, there's a gap in there, but they (the city) have had lots of time. Talking about the old program is a waste of time. It (applying for funds) has to go through the provincial route. That's where the hold-up is, at the province."

Jason Vanstone doesn't agree. The reeve of Miami, Manitoba has been trying to get federal infrastructure money for a new, $2.5 million library/municipal office. Miami and area is in southwest Manitoba and is primarily a farming community of about 1,700 people. Vanstone has relatives in Parksville and was asked to call The NEWS about this story by his colleague Burger.

"The level of frustration is beyond comprehension," said Vanstone. "I'm a good Conservative but they have dropped the ball here."

A public affairs officer sent this by e-mail to The NEWS in response to Lunney’s comments:

“The province is currently working with the federal government to finalize the terms and conditions in order to implement the various elements of the New Building Canada Plan,” wrote Kathy Cloutier of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. “The province is in the process of identifying priorities. Once program details are known, the province will advise municipalities on the process for submitting applications as soon as possible.”

In an interview and in his letter to the editor, Lunney also took aim at Burger personally, calling the mayor’s push to send a letter to numerous ministers, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, “amateurism.” He also didn’t like Burger’s use of language when the mayor, speaking at a council meeting about sending letters to all, said “even the damn prime minister.”

“Writing letters isn’t going to accomplish anything,” said Lunney. “They are not going to get (funding) through letters or swearing at the prime minister.”

Mayor Burger wouldn’t back down Tuesday.

“For him (Lunney) to suggest the federal government is blameless, that’s nonsense,” said the mayor. “Our citizens are not being served very well here at all.”

The mayor said communities across the country have lost a construction season, and/or the opportunity to put referendum questions on ballots in the fall, because of the way the federal government has mishandled infrastructure funding this year.

“To me, that’s amateurism,” said Burger.

The mayor was also asked about Lunney’s assertion the city could have applied for funding years ago. The mayor said despite the fact studies and discussion on the project have been going on for 10 years the federal government won’t accept requests for funding until projects are at the design-build stage.

“They are looking for shovel-ready jobs,” said Burger.

The city wants to put a referendum question on the municipal ballot in November, asking citizens for permission to borrow for the construction of the plant, which became mandatory when Island Health deemed all ground water used for municipal systems must be treated. Without answers to funding from senior levels of government, the city doesn’t know how much it will need to borrow and therefore can’t devise a referendum question, which must be submitted to the province by the first week of August in order to be included on November ballots.

“At this stage, I’m doubtful we will get commitment for the funding in time to hold a referendum,” said Burger.

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