AUMA had a conversation with the Honourable Ric McIver, Minister of Transportation, to discuss areas of key interest to our municipalities -- as well as who his favourite sports team is.
AUMA: What is your favourite sport and why?
Ric McIver: If I had to pick one, it would a sport I loved playing growing up: lacrosse.
AUMA: You have been very involved as a volunteer over the years. Do you have a favourite volunteer story you would like to share?
Ric McIver: I’ve been a volunteer on the Calgary Stampede Caravan Committee for close to 15 years. We take the Stampede out into the community, usually a parking lot at a shopping centre, and bring in corrals for petting zoos and pony rides, a live band on an 18-wheeler, and serve pancakes and sausages for between 2,000 and 10,000 people in a single day. It’s a riot.
A few years ago, Alberta was featured at the Smithsonian in Washington, and I had the honour to travel to the Canadian Embassy and cook a stampede breakfast on Canada Day. Afterward, we were given the opportunity to tour the embassy. That gave me a great appreciation for how the embassy fits into Washington. I also learned why, whenever there’s an inauguration, all the American media want to be on top of our embassy: because it’s the best view of the United States Capitol, where the inauguration takes place.
AUMA: What book are you reading right now?
Ric McIver: Do Something, by Preston Manning.
AUMA: What would our members be surprised to learn about you?
Ric McIver: On October 23, 2014, I found myself face-to-face with the shooter on Parliament Hill.
I was in Ottawa for a meeting with then-Minister of Employment and Social Development, MP Jason Kenney, at the Centre Block on Parliament Hill. Our meeting had just finished, and my Chief of Staff and I were halfway across the street between Parliament and the Prime Minister’s office when we heard the shots from the National War Memorial.
I could tell from the cadence of the shots that something bad had just happened. Military ceremonies are very consistent in timing.
We could see a guy booking it across the street with a rifle and a long coat, with a lot of flat ground between where he was and where we were about to walk. I said, “Let’s go back and stand at the stone gates at the entrance of the Parliament building,” thinking we’d be safe.
Two minutes later, he drove up with his car and came running through on his way to attack Parliament.
The next day, I was on the front page of every newspaper in Canada, in a security photo that had a circle outlined around the shooter. There was a fat bald guy with a briefcase just a few steps away. That was me.
AUMA: In July, you shaved off your mustache for the first time in 45 years. How did it feel, and do you have any plans to grow it back?
Ric McIver: It felt so weird. I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ”I don’t think that looks like me.“ So I grew it back.
AUMA: Since the announcement by Greyhound that they were going to terminate service in the province, several newer companies have begun to step in to fill the gap. What do you see as next steps to continue to address the need for inter-municipal transit?
Ric McIver: We appreciate that there are a number of private companies, like Red Arrow, Northern Express, and Cold Shot, that stepped into the vacuum left by Greyhound and are meeting the needs of rural Albertans. These companies and others are now providing service on more than 80% of Greyhound’s former routes. Generally, we feel the private sector is in the best position to meet rural bus needs.
That said, the Rural Transportation Pilot Program provides Albertans with public transportation services around Grande Prairie, Camrose, Red Deer, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat. Funding for the pilot program was extended to 2021, and then we will consider what, if anything, we will do next.
AUMA: What is your vision for a partnership between the provincial government and municipalities to fund and care for the essential transportation infrastructure that Albertans rely on in each community?
Ric McIver: Our vision for partnering with municipalities means working positively and collaboratively to fund and build critical transportation infrastructure, while getting Albertans back to work. This starts with our commitments in our 2019 election platform, where we recognized that a positive partnership between the provincial government and municipalities is key to municipalities addressing their communities’ priorities.
However, we also need to recognize that we have transportation infrastructure that the province is responsible for, and municipalities have transportation that they’re responsible for.
The Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Program (STIP) is meant to provide strategic support for local roads affecting economic development or resource projects. They're done on a formulaic basis, and many municipalities apply for project-specific funding each year.
In Budget 2020, we maintained over $61 million in key STIP funding to municipalities. As a part of our bold, ambitious, and long-term plan to build, diversify and create tens of thousands of jobs now, an additional $50 million has been directed for STIP funding to support 69 projects and 480 jobs.
We’re also always open to new partnerships with municipalities for cost-sharing the construction of critical infrastructure. Our partnerships with the County of Grande Prairie to complete the paving of the route between La Glace and Spirit River along Highway 724. That project includes a 75-25 cost split between the provincial government and the county. It stands as an example of how Alberta’s government can work with municipalities to get the ball rolling and get Albertans back to work.
AUMA: What do you see as the greatest challenge facing municipal transportation, and what opportunities do you see for your government and AUMA to work together in overcoming these challenges?
Ric McIver: Potholes.
Maintenance is a problem for our road system. We have a huge system, and keeping it at a standard acceptable to Albertans is a challenge. That challenge gets bigger every time the system expands.
It will take some creativity, but we have a great opportunity to work with AUMA members to share information and keep on top of advances that will produce technology to fix more road for every dollar spent. As we face a fiscal reckoning due to COVID-19 and the OPEC+ oil crisis, budgets will remain tight for the foreseeable future. We have to make good decisions, together, on when to pave or expand roads and when not to.
AUMA: You served in Cabinet before. Is there anything different or surprising about serving in Cabinet this time?
Ric McIver: This Cabinet is an amazingly strong group of people. They’re good at their jobs, and it’s a pleasure to work with such high-quality people. Every Cabinet has been great, but this one is really special.