Fort Macleod mayor says town now faces ‘nightmare’ after province pulls plug on police college plans – Mayor Shawn Patience: ‘This is certainly not the end of the story’

By James Wood, Calgary Herald August 30, 2012 6:50 AM

The mayor of Fort Macleod says the fight is just beginning after the Tory government abruptly pulled the plug on a long-awaited provincial police college in the southern Alberta town.

The government cancelled the $122-million Alberta Public Safety and Law Enforcement Training Centre on Wednesday, nearly six years to the day after it was announced and less than two months after a construction firm was awarded a contract for the project.

A furious Mayor Shawn Patience said the announcement by Justice Minister Jonathan Denis is a “nightmare” for the community, which spent more than $100,000 on its original proposal and has invested nearly $4 million in service lines to the site of the proposed college.

“We are seeking legal advice as we speak and it will be up to my council the direction we take from here. But this is certainly not the end of the story by any means and I have to say, we elect people to be leaders and we expect them to have integrity, we expect them to fulfil commitments,” Patience said in an interview.

“I hope Alberta is listening here and I’m asking the premier to rescind this. This is a poor decision.”

But Denis said concerns both over costs and the level of use for the facility played a role in the decision.

While Bird Design-Build Construction Inc. was retained to build the college in July, Denis said Wednesday he subsequently received a letter last month from the Alberta Association of Police Chiefs questioning the need for the new facility.

Further feedback from the Calgary and Edmonton police services and the RCMP suggested the facility would not be missed, he said.

“I have to be a steward of the taxpayer dollar and this is a big-ticket item. And when three of your large stakeholders tell you that it’s not going to affect the quality of policing, that has a very big impact on your decision,” said Denis.

“Continuing with this project would not be in the best interests of the taxpayer or law enforcement.”

The government has put just under $2 million toward the project so far and there could be further costs related to the cancellation, according to Denis’s office.

While the decision was primary financial, Denis said it had nothing to do with belttightening efforts by the Progressive Conservative government.

Finance Minister Doug Horner is expected to release a first-quarter financial report Thursday that will show the government grappling with lower-than-anticipated oil revenue.

In February, the government earmarked $19 million for the college in this year’s budget.

Denis also denied political calculations played a role in the cancellation. The Livingstone-Macleod constituency where the college was to be located was held by Tory MLAs until the spring election, when it was won by Wildrose’s Pat Stier.

Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw, the party’s justice critic, said the Opposition supported the creation of the college and questioned how the government could determine the facility’s fate on last-minute input from police services.

“It appears that Minister Denis is entirely incompetent if he didn’t make the proper consultations months ago,” he said. “How on earth is he making his decisions?”

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman said the college never made much sense but there’s undoubtedly a political dynamic at play.

The facility was continually held out as a promise to southern Alberta residents, only to be yanked as punishment when voters supported Wildrose, she said.

“They’re making the right decision for the wrong reasons,” Blakeman said of the PCs.

Ralph Klein’s government initially announced funding for the project in 2006, but the recession put it on the back burner.

In the summer of 2011, outgoing Premier Ed Stelmach announced the college would go ahead and a sod-turning event with government ministers took place.

According to Alberta Infrastructure, the college was to include classroom space, residences, a driving track, indoor and outdoor firing ranges.

The approximately 28,000-square-metre facility was expected to train 400 police officers and 1,000 peace officers each year, while offering professional development for another 1,200 police, corrections and peace officers.

The province received support for kiboshing the college from Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson, Edmonton’s Chief Rod Knecht and RCMP K Division Commander Dale McGowan.

Hanson told reporters in Calgary he was “relieved” with the government’s decision and said the college was never a “police-driven initiative.”


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Original source article: Fort Macleod mayor says town now faces ‘nightmare’ after province pulls plug on police college plans