Despite a mid-week announcement touting new upgrades of three Island schools, the province has yet to submit an application to Infrastructure Canada for the funding needed to make these improvements.
Late Tuesday, P.E.I.’s department of Education and Lifelong Learning issued a media statement indicating that construction and capital improvements to West Royalty Elementary, Eliot River Elementary and Montague Consolidated would be expedited due to federal COVID-19 resilience fund.
“In partnership with the federal government and made possible through the new COVID-19 Resilience Stream infrastructure funding, planned expansions and capital improvements will be completed at Montague Consolidated, West Royalty Elementary School and Eliot River Elementary,” read Tuesday’s release.
West Royalty Elementary is located in Charlottetown-Winsloe, a district that is in the midst of a byelection campaign.
But an email from Infrastructure Canada, the federal agency that is administering the COVID-19 Resilience Stream, said no application has been submitted for the funds.
“Infrastructure Canada has not received an application for the West Royalty Elementary, Eliot River Elementary and Montague Consolidated,” read an email received by The Guardian by a representative of Infrastructure Canada.
The COVID-19 Resilience Fund provides funding for projects in which provincial governments pay 20 per cent of the costs. The federal government would pay 80 per cent.
Parents have raised issue with crowded conditions in the West Royalty school for years. Last fall, Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly told the legislature that classes are situated in broom closets and change rooms.
West Royalty Elementary did not receive funding for an expansion in the fall’s provincial capital budget, although $20 million of funding was allocated for improvements at Eliot River and Montague Consolidated. A $4.7 million allotment for an expansion to West Royalty was included in the 2018 capital budget, passed during the tenure of the previous Liberal government. These funds were allocated to other schools last fall.
Liberal MP Sean Casey said he was contacted after Tuesday’s announcement by both Charlottetown-Winsloe Liberal candidate Zac Murphy and Infrastructure Canada. He said the announcement by the province was unusual as projects involving both federal and provincial dollars are announced jointly, Casey said.
"This was done without the knowledge, consent or involvement of the federal government," Casey said.
"At a minimum it's premature. In its worst-case scenario, the breach of the protocol could possibly jeopardize any future application."
P.E.I.’s Transportation, Energy and Infrastructure Minister Steven Myers confirmed that the application to Infrastructure Canada has not yet been submitted. Myers said the application under the COVID-19 Resilience Stream is in process.
“We have no reason to believe that they won't approve it,” Myers said in an interview.
"The way it works is, we would pay 100 per cent of the dollars and then we would get the federal funds back."
Myers could not provide a timeline for commencement of work on the three schools, but said work would need to be completed by the end of 2021 under the requirements of the federal fund.
He also downplayed that the Tuesday’s announcement was related to the Charlottetown-Winsloe byelection. He noted that the announcement included Montague Consolidated and Eliot River, schools not located within Charlottetown-Winsloe.
"In your bubble of politics there's always somebody saying this shouldn't have been announced or somebody wasn't included," Myers said.
"We will have a proper federal announcement whenever they come through with the money. Then at that point, Sean Casey, if he's still elected, will be there."
We’ve been working on this new stream of funding with the federal gov’t for months. We’re excited to have a willing partner in the federal government and that they are allowing education infrastructure to be included. https://t.co/so1avQCfSK— Steven Myers (@stevenmyersPC) October 22, 2020
The governing PCs would have a slim majority in the legislature if PC candidate Zack Bell wins the byelection.
Liberal candidate Zac Murphy said parents in the district are “frustrated and disappointment” with plans for the West Royalty expansion.
"They just seem to have the feeling that this government doesn't seem to care about this particular project. It's been delayed, it's been cancelled, it's been re-announced,” Murphy said.
This is an unfortunate and frustrating development for the families and students of Charlottetown-Winsloe. It must be disappointing for everyone involved to have this type of doubt cast over such an important piece of school infrastructure for our community #peipoli https://t.co/JcM7wWSJuY— Zac Murphy (@zac_murph) October 22, 2020
Charlottetown-Winsloe Green candidate Chris van Ouwerkerk said he was initially happy to hear Tuesday’s announcement about West Royalty. But he said parents are tired of “on-again, off-again” plans for the school.
"It just shows that they're playing games with this byelection, with schools," van Ouwerkerk said.
"It's very important that the voters in district 10 have [a] concrete, real announcement that is not just political trickery."
The Guardian reached out to PC candidate Zack Bell and NDP candidate Lynne Thiele. Calls were not returned by deadline. The Guardian attempted to reach the principal of West Royalty Elementary but was told by a representative of the Public Schools Branch that they would be “declining interviews.”