Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer
With files from the Townsman
Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks has admitted to a $32.6-million “mistake” after a Revelstoke Mountaineer investigation uncovered multimillion-dollar discrepancies in a funding announcement made in Revelstoke on July 16.
That day, Wilks joined Oshawa MP Colin Carrie for a press event at the Monashee Lookout in Mount Revelstoke National Park. With local media on hand, and about a dozen other Parks Canada staff and attendees looking on, Wilks unveiled $156.6 million in funding for Mount Revelstoke and Glacier national parks capital projects, including bridge work, Trans-Canada Highway paving, new avalanche mitigation work, trails work and building upgrades.
But residents started questioning details of the announcement. They looked at breakdowns of the projects up for funding and noted that several of them had already started in the summer of 2014, some were significantly complete, and at least one — the $3.4 million Woolsey Creek Bridge upgrade in Mount Revelstoke park — had already finished.
The Mountaineer sent an information request to Parks Canada, which responded that a total of $54.8 million worth of the projects announced were in fact from the 2014 budget, not the new infrastructure fund.
The projects include a $3.3-million Trans-Canada Highway Bridge upgrade to an Illecillewaet River Bridge, a $35.2-million paving, guardrail and slope stabilization project on the Trans-Canada in Glacier National Park, a $12.9-million paving project in Mount Revelstoke National Park, and a $3.4-million rehabilitation project on the Woolsey Creek Bridge in Mount Revelstoke National Park.
When asked about the discrepancy, Wilks acknowledged his error.
“I made a mistake,” he told the Mountaineer. He listed several of the projects, admitting they were in fact 2014 projects. “So, that’s $32.6 million that was expensed to those projects. So the 2015 announcement should have been $123.4 million, which are the remainder of the projects that you had listed.”
Wilks explained the discrepancy by saying the 2014 budget had only partly funded some of the projects, and that the remainder would come out of new infrastructure funding.
Other candidates in Kootenay-Columbia weighed in on the incident
Liberal candidate Don Johnston said he was troubled by the “mistake.”
” We know that the Conservatives will try to spin funding announcements from the current budget that actually will not come into play until 2017 or later,” Johnston said in a press release. With a budget that was just barely balanced it’s no surprise they now have to resort to borrowing funds “from previous years just to make the announcements that are so essential to keeping their jobs.”
Johnston said his main concern is for local representation. “It is very worrisome that our MP presented factually inaccurate information in a release that was obviously crafted by party headquarters. Surely, he should know what projects have been funded previously and particularly those that have been completed. If he is too busy to join all candidate forums and talk to constituents, while using our money and financial announcements to support his campaign, then I would hope we wouldn’t be hearing about $32 million mistakes.”
NDP candidate Wayne Stetski had similar thoughts.
“All across the riding over the last few weeks, Mr. Wilks has been making massive funding announcements,” said Stetski. “And now he’s been forced to admit that at least one of those announcements was not genuine.”
“Clearly, Mr. Wilks’ re-election strategy is dependent on big, flashy funding announcements that attempt to prove he’s doing a good job for the people of Kootenay Columbia. In fact, he’s even stated that he’s too busy making funding announcements to make plans to attend All- Candidate debates. And now, when one of those announcements is proven to be a misrepresentation, it tells a story of a politician who has entirely lost his way.”
Green candidate Bill Green was more terse.
My only comment on the recent raft of federal funding announcements is that the current Conservative government preaches fiscal restraint and practices seeking to buy votes with our tax dollars,” Green said. “From my door-to-door canvassing, the Conservative strategy clearly isn’t working.
The Daily Townsman sought further comment from MP Wilks on the matter, but as of press time it was unavailable.