Wildrose government would try to buy airport from Edmonton

A Wildrose government would try to buy Edmonton's City Centre Airport to ensure it is kept as a base for northern medevac flights, party leader Danielle Smith told a CBC editorial board Wednesday.
Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith spoke to a CBC editorial board in Edmonton on Wednesday. (CBC)

A Wildrose government would try to buy Edmonton's City Centre Airport to ensure it is kept as a base for northern medevac flights, party leader Danielle Smith told a CBC editorial board Wednesday.

Smith said a successful sale of the airport, immediately northwest of downtown Edmonton, would be a "double win" for the province and the city. If she became Alberta premier, Smith said she would try to restart talks with the city.

"There's no reason we can't look at negotiating a purchase of the airport asset off of the city, which would give them additional sources of revenue to pay for other things," she said. "We know that they have a few high priorities, like arenas."

Edmonton city council voted two years ago to start a phased closure of the airport to free up the lands for residential development.

Smith said that about a year and a half before the vote, the city asked the province to buy the land for $800 million because it needed the cash.

But discussions ended after the price got down to $80 million due to cleanup costs and environmental liability, she said.

"I believe that part of the reason that they're doing this is that they feel so cash-strapped, and I'm sensitive to that, every municipality feels cash-strapped," Smith said.

"But I don't think that you go and you dismantle a major regional asset, an asset that is going to be a gateway to the north, an asset that I think has the potential to have incredibly high value for the entire capital region just because you've got a municipality that's desperate for cash."

'It's news to me:' Mandel

Mayor Stephen Mandel said the city has never talked to the province about selling the airport lands.

"It's news to me," he said.

"I'm not going to comment on what Ms. Smith does or doesn't do, does or doesn't say. I'm only saying, my understanding of what we've done while I've been mayor is that's not happened."

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel said as far as he knows, the city has never spoken to the province about selling the City Centre Airport. (CBC)

Smith mused that a figure of $500 million might be a good starting point for negotiations, but Mandel said selling is not an option.

"No, the land's not for sale," he said. "You know this is a great vision for the city of Edmonton, redevelop that land into an important part of our infrastructure, to house people in the centre of the city and to build something that's very special, and council is committed to doing that.

"I don't think that there is any reason to continue that discussion and so, we've made our decision, we've moved on, Edmontonians moved on ... everybody in the last election moved on. Decisions have been made."

But the medevac issue continues to linger.

A May 2011 report by the Health Quality Council of Alberta found that moving medevac flights from City Centre Airport to the international airport south of the city would put patient safety at risk by changing hospital transport times in Edmonton from being the shortest in the country to the longest.

Smith said the move is the No. 1 issue in some northern Alberta communities.

"When we've done town hall meetings in High Level, in Lac la Biche, the closure of the Edmonton City Centre Airport and the impact that it is going to have on our northern communities is a constant source of concern," she said.

The ruling Alberta Progressive Conservative government isn't likely to start negotiations with the city of Edmonton after Alison Redford is sworn in as premier.

"Given that we support local decision making and financial prudence, I would say we would likely not support such an initiative," Redford's chief of staff Stephen Carter said in an email to CBC News.

Last year, Mandel publicly rebuked Smith both for calling the airport closure "rushed and undemocratic" and for signing a petition circulated by Envision Edmonton, which called on the city to hold a plebiscite on the airport's future.

The petition was unsuccessful because the pro-airport group failed to collect enough valid signatures.

The city recently named Vancouver firm Perkins + Will as the winner of an international competition to transform the centrally-located property into an environmentally sustainable residential neighbourhood.