Opposition parties in the province are crying foul over a $1-million rural infrastructure grant given to a downtown Charlottetown festival and events site.
P.E.I. NDP Leader James Rodd says he is "appalled" this money, earmarked primarily for rural infrastructure and development, was spent on an urban concert site in the capital. He believes the auditor general should be called in to investigate.
“I think it’s appalling that the rural development minister and the department itself is giving money outside of the premise to which that money was to have been used,” Rodd said in an interview.
“Perhaps the auditor general should be brought in to see how appropriate the spending has been or hasn’t been in this department.”
The province contributed the $1-million grant to help fund a $3.9-million concert site under construction on the old Imperial Oil land in Charlottetown. The money came from the province’s Island Community Fund, managed by government’s rural development division.
The government website states priority for this fund ‘will be given to capital projects which improve rural capacity, support regional and provincial priorities as outlined in the Rural Action Plan.’
This plan identifies seven key goals to help grow P.E.I.’s rural economy and help rural communities and primary industries become and remain sustainable.
The department was quick to point out Friday morning, after an article about the concert site funding appeared in Thursday’s Guardian, other projects in Charlottetown, Summerside and Stratford have also received money from this fund.
But Rodd said he doesn’t believe that excuses government from putting rural infrastructure dollars toward a capital city project.
“If this has been going on, other cities and towns getting money through this fund, it doesn’t make it right now any more than it did when it was given in those cases,” Rodd said.
“The rural communities, primary resources, they’re teetering on the verge of collapse. This is a callous disregard to rural communities. It’s a slap in the face to rural Islanders.”
P.E.I. Green Party Leader Sharon Labchuk echoed Rodd’s criticism of this spending decision.
She said she’s been hearing numerous concerns from residents in West Prince about the need for economic development and population retention initiatives – issues the Island Community Fund is meant to address.
“There are communities around the province that are desperately trying to stay afloat, especially up in West Prince, who are seeing an exodus of especially young people to Alberta and other places where there are more jobs,” Labchuk said.
She said she believes residents of these communities are likely feeling ‘ripped off’ in finding out about a Charlottetown concert venue getting rural development dollars.
“Government is not prioritizing the needs of the province very well at all if they think that $8 million in Strathgartney and $1 million on a concert site is a good use of taxpayers’ money in P.E.I., with massive debt and a lot of needs, especially in rural P.E.I.” Labchuk said.
Opposition rural development critic Colin LaVie said he knows of many small and medium sized businesses in outer lying communities that would have been happy to have been offered this rural development money.
“I’d just like to know where’s the million dollars for Kings County, Prince County?” LaVie said.
“Spending money in the bigger municipalities is good, but don’t forget about the rest of the Island. There’s small and medium businesses that are also in need of funding.”