You deserve a return on your investment in the form of critical community infrastructure, strong public transit, access to housing and the opportunity to start a business or work for a company that respects your talents.
To maintain Calgary’s edge, we need to:
Negotiate predictable funding streams from other orders of government that allow Calgary to complete its transit network and offer housing affordability in a way that cuts the red tape of applying for grants.
If Calgary retained even a portion of these funds, we could eliminate the
bureaucratic waste of sending money to the province only to later ask for it
back through grants, ultimately stabilizing and lowering your tax bill. Every
dollar of tax you pay – of investment you make in this city – deserves to be
spent on you and your community.
To eliminate the red tape and complete our communities, we need to:
Dedicate a portion of the 40% transfer payment toward offsetting the gap in operating revenues during this period of prolonged depreciating downtown market values.
We need to ensure that our businesses and social organizations are strongly connected to local government. Most critical is the building of cross-sector partnerships, supported by a strong team of councillors committed to fairness for all Calgarians.
We can foster strong city-building relationships by:
Engaging community leaders early and often, ensuring Calgarians’ lived
experiences shape the City of Calgary’s policies and practises.
Memorable cities offer a broad range of experiences to their residents and visitors, often anchored in the arts and creative sectors. Cities that have future-proofed their economies have similarly used arts and creative sector initiatives to play a role in recovery and prosperity.
Calgary is well positioned to leverage its arts and creative sectors as we move toward becoming a more resilient city.
We must secure and protect our arts sector for the economic and health benefits it provides. For this reason, the City of Calgary must begin by assembling a recovery fund of at least $15 million to support artists and arts organizations. These funds would be used for programming and other initiatives to support recovery in this vital part of our local economy. Funding will be primarily secured through partnerships with other orders of government, budget savings, and other innovative means.
According to Statistics Canada data, the arts and creative sectors represent a growing industry across Canada. In 2017, cultural industries accounted for 2.7% of national GDP and 3.6% of all jobs. That year alone saw significant gains in sound-recording, audio-visual & interactive media, and visual & applied arts. Culture jobs in live performance also increased by 2.4%. Furthermore, the creative sector provided 24,000 full-year jobs and contributed over $2.1 billion in GDP to Calgary’s economy in 2016.
There is clearly momentum and opportunity available through this sector of the economy.
In addition to economic benefits, the arts also play an important role in societal health and wellbeing. There are impacts to brain health, children’s developmental milestones, seniors’ health, newcomers’ integration and Indigenous reconciliation efforts that rely heavily on investments in the arts.
It is well past time for the City of Calgary to bolster its support of the arts and creative sectors. After decades of reliance on private sector support, many artists and non-profit arts organizations were hit hard following the 2014 oil price collapse, as private companies scaled back their sponsorship and philanthropic support. The current economic situation in our city has highlighted that progressive lack of investment in the arts by our municipal government has placed our creative sector well behind any other major metropolitan center in Canada.
As a result, Alberta’s arts sector receives proportionately fewer federal grant dollars than those of comparable provinces. Between 2016/2017 to 2019/2020, our province received $3.04 in average annual grant dollars per resident from the Canada Council for the Arts. Over the same time period, Ontario, BC, and Quebec received $5.36, $7.04, and $9.30 respectively from the same grant program. Calgary will continue to miss opportunities for creative sector funding if we do not demonstrate a commitment to the arts.
We also have a situation where our provincial government has shown little interest in the economic, education, health and inclusion benefits that would flow from an investment in the arts. Municipalities are largely left to fund this important work on their own, with philanthropic efforts from community leaders and the private sector. Fewer provincial matching dollars for arts initiatives has not only resulted in capacity gaps within Alberta’s creative sector, cities like Calgary are further unable to tap into federal grant programs.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the disadvantages faced by Calgary’s arts sector were becoming increasingly apparent, in terms of gaps in funding and support. Layering in the impacts from the pandemic, it is estimated that Calgary’s arts sector lost well over $20 million in revenues from ticket sales, donations, sponsorships, and other income. Well into 2021, these losses have certainly multiplied.
For the sake of our economy and collective wellbeing, we as Calgarians must nurture our creative sectors by investing in the arts.
Print Version October 4, 2021
Press Release October 4, 2021
It is going to take a collaborative leadership to manage through the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 and a provincial government that has not prioritized our health and wellness. We need to: provide certainty and predictability for investors and business, refocus our economic development agenda on new energy and agricultural industries, and attract and retain talent by building complete communities and offering services.
Calgary is facing economic uncertainty unlike anything our community has seen before. The COVID-19 pandemic’s ongoing impacts, together with the global energy crisis and the lingering effects of the pre-pandemic recession, threaten both our communities and livelihoods. Our provincial government’s unwillingness to prioritize the health and wellbeing of workers, businesses, and consumers in this time of crisis further jeopardizes our prosperity. Our city requires steadfast leadership and real solutions to address these wicked challenges.
Over the past decade, global forces beyond our control have brought about structural changes to world energy markets. The resulting impacts - specifically the 2014 oil price collapse - changed the face of our economy and our community. Many well-paying jobs disappeared, leaving countless families with few options and ever fewer opportunities. Years later, unemployment rates in Calgary’s economic region have remained stubbornly above both provincial and national averages both before and during the pandemic.
This economic downturn also drastically reduced Calgary’s downtown property values, with serious implications for the City’s finances. As office vacancies rose to nearly 30%, downtown properties collectively lost over $16 billion dollars in assessed value. This represents hundreds of millions of dollars in lost municipal revenues, in turn requiring difficult but necessary changes in how the tax burden is shared between homeowners and businesses.
Beginning in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic introduced new uncertainties and anxiety into our economic future. Among other impacts, women’s labour force participation in Canada was set back decades, with almost half a million female workers yet to be rehired by January 2021.
In Alberta, cycles of restrictions and re-openings have come to threaten the viability of countless businesses as well as the integrity of our healthcare system. In many cases, rapidly changing public health restrictions have rendered many employees and employers unable to provide for themselves and their families.
Faced with so many challenges, we must draw on our community’s history and unique strengths to chart our own path forward. The seeds of our future success lie with our wealth of experience in the energy sector and the understanding that we must evolve the industry. We also have an agricultural heritage that can lead the world in food security and sustainability solutions. Based on our community’s innovative and forward-looking mindset, our recovery will be built on embracing a transition economy supported by our many communal assets, such as quality public transit, impressive parks and public spaces, strong post-secondary institutions and housing affordability options.
Calgary’s local government has an important role to play in supporting our community's economic recovery. In these uncertain times, the City of Calgary must be a source of stability for business, a focused convenor of opportunities, and a mindful community capacity builder. With bold leadership and a collaborative approach, we can leverage our strengths into an inclusive economic recovery for all. Only then will we be able to take the action needed to welcome and retain the people and capital our city needs.
1. Provide certainty and predictability for investors and business
To attract capital and support our economic recovery, the City of Calgary must ensure a stable and supportive operating environment for business and investors. This means streamlining regulatory processes, and establishing consistent and appropriate public health measures in light of COVID-19’s fourth wave.
Until it is safe to do so, mitigation measures such as vaccine passports and mandatory masking in indoor public places must continue. This is necessary not only to safeguard our healthcare system, but also to protect local businesses and the livelihoods of countless Calgarians.
The City’s response to COVID-19, as well as other recent disasters, demonstrates its capacity to be nimble and responsive to local business needs. Initiatives such as sidewalk patios and adaptive roadways illustrate this ability. This kind of innovation and flexibility must be cultivated and welcomed as a permanent feature of the City’s operations and internal culture.
We must also stay committed to the investments made toward the downtown recovery, which include incentive programs that generate private sector capital investments. The success of the $45 million investment toward office-to-residential conversions is clear in the program being fully subscribed. Private companies have responded to our investment strategy by following up with their own capital, signaling much-needed market confidence in our future.
Finally, budget reform is critical in providing certainty to residential and non-residential property taxpayers. Budgeting should begin with a clear understanding of total assessed property value to have an estimated revenue stream from which to set the operating budget. There should also be equity in how the proportion of operating budget is allocated to residential and non-residential properties. Capital budgets should be set with a clear indication of matched funding opportunities that will be leveraged from other orders of government and the private sector.
2. Refocusing our economic development agenda
Calgary’s past as a centre for the energy and agriculture sectors will be foundational to our renewed prosperity. By focusing on these key industries, together with our city’s emerging innovation and tech sectors, we can reinvent Calgary as a hub for companies dedicated to addressing pressing challenges such as food insecurity and the global energy transition. Many exciting companies and partnerships are already establishing themselves in Calgary to take advantage of our city’s strengths.
Despite some successes, our City’s efforts to identify and develop economic opportunities suffer from a lack of coordination and focus, resulting in missed opportunities and wasted resources. Multiple civic bodies with similar mandates continue to work in silos, while poorly conceived direct-to-business investment and granting programs have been introduced in recent years.
To maximize the impact of our limited resources, we must combine the numerous agencies and authorities that currently exist to promote Calgary as a destination for investment and visitors. Such bodies include: Tourism Calgary, Calgary Economic Development, and the Calgary Convention Centre Authority. This will support a more stream-lined approach to cultivating economic opportunities.
The City of Calgary should not be in the business of investing taxpayer dollars into private companies through granting programs operated by a wholly-owned subsidiary. Rather, the City should focus on what it is best positioned to do: investing in the services and amenities that strengthen our communities.
We must also create a proper economic development strategy for our regional partnership, where shared costs and benefits of regional strategies serve to build a strong industrial and commercial tax base.
3. Attract and retain talent by building complete communities and offering services
To welcome and retain talent in Calgary, we must build complete communities that support high-quality municipal services at tax rates we can afford. Though Calgary possesses many assets such as an enviable system of parks and pathways, a relatively high degree of housing affordability, and easy access to recreational opportunities, we must work to strengthen our communities’ appeal to potential residents.
The historical planning approach of separating land uses has resulted in communities where it is difficult for many Calgarians to meet their daily needs without a car. This kind of development is costly for the taxpayer as well as unattractive to the talent we need to attract for Calgary’s economic recovery. Basic amenities such as groceries stores must be available within close proximity to residential areas, and access to key services such as childcare facilities must be improved in all areas of our city.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to improve access to safe, high-quality childcare in Calgary and around the country. In Alberta, gender-based labour market disparities have persisted into 2021, with workers with young children continuing to be disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19. Attracting and retaining talent to support Calgary’s economic recovery requires that the City take all possible measures to improve the availability of childcare to our citizens.
Finally, we must return to fundamental issues of cost and revenue when planning our city. We must approach all planning exercises with an understanding of the costs of servicing new development, and then proceed to build communities that generate sufficient property tax revenues to cover these costs.
Press Release September 22, 2021
The City of Calgary stands at a crossroads. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare wide-ranging economic and social injustices. As a community we must decide how we will respond to: equity in the municipal budget, evolving a progressive police force, advancing truth and reconciliation, restoring transit service, and supporting harm reduction in our communities.
In 2021, Calgary stands at a crossroads. Over the past eighteen months, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare wide-ranging economic and social injustices both locally and around the world. Now, as a community, we must decide how we will respond.
In 2020, over one-third of eligible Albertans (workers who earned more than $5,000 in 2019) received CERB payments, slightly over the national average. However, there are stories of tens of thousands of struggling families beneath these aggregated statistics – families who likely faced precarious financial situations even before the pandemic. These families who worked hard for independence and financial sustainability have been pushed into crisis.
At the same time, hate incidents have become more and more common across our country, rendering racialized Canadians and members of religious minorities increasingly unsafe. In parallel, we are witnessing the beginnings of a new reckoning with systemic racism, with a particular focus on Islamophobia, anti-Indigenous and anti-black racism. Recent discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential school sites have heightened already urgent calls for acknowledging the truth of Indigenous peoples’ horrific treatment in Canada. Following from this, we see increased calls to action on reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
Women in Calgary and across Canada have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, as childcare and related responsibilities have tended to unfairly fall on them.
In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing crisis of opioid overdoses has continued and worsened. In 2020, over 1,150 Albertans died from opioid overdoses, almost double the
figure for 2019. In Calgary alone, nearly 400 individuals died from these overdoses, up 72% from 2019. Furthermore, social isolation and other pandemic restriction impacts have contributed to heightened prevalence of mental health concerns across our community.
The pandemic has also underscored issues of accessibility for people with disabilities. Due to their specific needs, many people with disabilities have suffered disproportionately from reduced access to care, services, employment, and educational opportunities.
For Calgary to be a truly resilient city, we must take meaningful action to address these and other disparities within our communities. As many Calgarians possess more than one marginalized identity, an intersectional approach is the essential foundation for any effective approach aimed at enhancing our city’s social resilience.
We must be innovative and not shy away from making needed changes to our local institutions. Though municipal jurisdiction is not infinite, it provides a number of opportunities to effect these changes through the City’s roles as a regulator, service provider, funder, and our community’s largest single employer. Beyond this, there are substantial opportunities for collaboration with other orders of government.
Today, the City has many advisory committees, policies, initiatives, and strategies related to equity and inclusion. For example, in 2020, as part of Calgary’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist city, Council established the Anti-Racism Action Committee (ARAC). This new committee joined others, such as the Social Wellbeing Advisory Committee, the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee, and the Advisory Committee on Accessibility. In addition to advisory bodies, Council has approved a huge number of policies and strategies intended to address equity concerns, such as White Goose Flying, the Social Wellbeing Policy, and the recently-approved A Community of Connections: Calgary’s Mental Health and Addictions Strategy.
For reasons such as administrative silos, inadequate resourcing, narrow conceptions of equity, and other systemic barriers, these committees and documents have not been able to affect the changes that Calgarians deserve. Making tangible progress on improving equity for Calgarians entails nothing less than fundamental changes to funding priorities, as well as changes to municipal operating practices.
These problems of equity will not be solved overnight. Making progress towards a more just future is a long-term, ongoing project. Mistakes will be made along the way, and as a result of this reality, sustained reflection and dialogue will be key to building the community we wish to pass on to future generations. The goal must be to empower citizens with lived experience whom we have appointed to committees to identify the ways to disrupt and change our systems and processes.
To assist Calgary in making greater strides towards a more equitable future, we must place equity at the center of our budgeting process, commit to evolving a progressive police force, and prioritize resources for truth and reconciliation. We must also prioritize and advocate for services needed by marginalized populations, such as public transit and safe consumption sites.
Advancing equity and resilience through the municipal budget
The City must fully integrate equity considerations into its 2023-2026 service plans and budgets. Capital investments have the potential to enhance equity by improving marginalized Calgarians’ access to services and opportunities.
Each service line (such as Public Transit, Parks or Open Spaces) must clearly articulate its contributions towards advancing equity in our communities alongside tangible metrics to demonstrate progress over time.
Council’s own decision making must incorporate the lens of resilience, ensuring that citizens are well served by a thoughtful process that looks to economic, social and environmental impacts of actions.
Evolving a progressive police force
All Calgarians deserve fair treatment by their public institutions, especially from their police service. To keep all our neighbours safe, the City must enable the Calgary Police Service to partner with organizations best able to address complex social issues through both preventative and crisis-oriented support services.
The Calgary Police Service (CPS) itself has recognized that police are not necessarily well-equipped to respond to all service calls, and that preventative approaches must be employed to reduce demands on police resources. Many calls involving individuals experiencing severe mental health-related distress may be better responded to by other professionals such as social workers. This is why in 2020, CPS committed to independently reallocate $8 million from its budget to programs such as the Police and Crisis Team (PACT) and other alternative response programs. This is also why Council separately established the Community Safety Investment Framework (CSIF) during its November 2020 budget deliberations, with a one-time allocation of $8 million dollars from reserves.
Following evaluation of initial funding allocations, permanent funding streams must be identified for the Community Safety Investment Framework (CSIF), to ensure the right first responders are responding to the appropriate service calls.
Council must also ensure that citizen appointments to Calgary Police Commission are rooted in reflecting Calgary’s diverse communities. Rather than a corporatized approach to oversight, Calgary Police Commission should embrace its recent evolution towards exercising governance that prioritizes inclusion, equity and diversity as foundational principles of policing.
Advancing truth and reconciliation
Calgary’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, the White Goose Flying report, was released in 2016. Nearly five years later, it is clear that Council has not yet allocated sufficient resources to implement the report’s recommendations in a timely manner. Council must move to approve the necessary funding, in particular for the City’s Indigenous Affairs Office, to rectify the situation.
Furthermore, a portion of all City land sale proceeds should be allocated towards the building of an Indigenous gathering place within Calgary, a clear recommendation within White Goose Flying. Following this project’s completion, these funds should be allocated to relevant capital projects that advance truth and reconciliation within our city.
While White Goose Flying was a start on the path to reconciliation, there is more work to do to ensure that all Indigenous voices are heard. Particularly with relation to an evolving urban environment that has shifted considerably since 2016, we must ensure that present day issues are understood, recommendations made and actions taken.
Restoring transit service
Many marginalized Calgarians, particularly those with low incomes, rely on public transit to access employment, education, healthcare, leisure opportunities, and social networks. Currently, no part of our city receives the ‘Primary Transit Network’ level of service envisioned by the Calgary Transportation Plan (frequency of 10 minutes or less, 15 hours a day, 7 days a week). This is primarily due to budget reductions in recent years.
To support our economic recovery and to improve ease of transportation for all Calgarians, the City must move to restore Primary Transit Network levels of service to LRT lines and select bus lines. Service levels should be restored as part of Council’s November 2021 budget adjustments and sustained into the 2023-2026 budget cycle.
Supporting harm reduction in our communities
Addressing harm reduction in Calgary is not just a matter of creating more treatment facilities and having more beds available. People who use drugs are often labelled as addicts, causing our focus to shift toward addiction treatment rather than preventing overdose deaths. Ignoring overdoses and looking only toward recovery is leading to a disturbing number of Calgarians dying.
Experts in the field have told us repeatedly that their vulnerable clients need immediate access to supervised consumption sites within a 500 meter radius of their facilities that provide drop-in and shelter services. This type of access reduces overdose deaths, needle debris, and drug use in public areas. Harm reduction of this immediate nature is required to supplement broader strategies around opioid agonist treatment (OAT), mental health supports, and detoxification programs.
Safe consumption sites are part of the complex concept of harm reduction that requires collaborative solutions informed by compassionate public policy. While safe consumption sites are critical in saving lives, the key lies with location and supports for members of the community who live or work near these sites.
Press Release September 9, 2021
The City of Calgary must take bold action in its commitment to building a more resilient city, and that includes implementing clear environmental targets to reduce local greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to our changing climate.
Calgarians today are growing up in a very different world than previous generations. Their experience of ‘normal’ includes natural and other disasters that are increasing in both frequency and severity. In recent years, Alberta has seen record damage from flooding, hailstorms, and wildfires. These disasters have caused well over $10 billion in insured losses related to homes, businesses, and public infrastructure. For so many of our neighbours, memories are still raw from the 2013 floods and the hailstorm of 2020.
In large part, climate change caused by human activity is to blame for these natural disasters.
As municipalities have direct or indirect control over nearly half of Canada’s GHG emissions, Calgary must do its part to mitigate climate change by reducing these emissions with a plan that is more ambitious than the present city-wide GHG reduction target of 80 per cent below 2005 levels by 2050.
Calgary must instead work to achieve net zero city-wide GHG emissions by 2050, and net zero GHG emissions from municipally-owned buildings and vehicles by 2035.
Because Calgarians have made a significant investment in making this city their home, they deserve a high quality of life and low cost of living within carbon-conscious communities. We must attract global investment from businesses and organizations that share this vision. Current and prospective Calgarians should have the ability to live a low carbon life without leaving our city.
We must remain focused on achieving emissions reductions by retrofitting existing buildings, supporting electric vehicle adoption, and greening electricity generation. This reflects the fact that nearly 2/3 of Calgary’s emissions come from energy use in buildings, with the remaining 1/3 coming from the transportation sector. In terms of energy, electricity usage in Calgary accounts for 42% of GHG emissions, primarily due to natural gas-based power generation. Natural gas accounts for 24% of emissions, primarily from heating buildings. As with most emissions reduction strategies, these measures will require robust collaboration with provincial and federal governments.
Enhancing flood protection and promoting durable construction materials are two more measures that assist us in addressing climate change. These measures respond to the most costly disasters experienced in Calgary to date, as well as those expected to occur in the future. By reducing the costs of climate disasters, we move closer to the goals of being a resilient city.
Mitigating the effects of climate change
To facilitate retrofits of existing buildings, municipal governments can establish a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program. This program enables residential and non-residential property owners to invest in energy efficiency retrofits of their buildings, thus reducing demands for energy, assisting with reducing Calgary’s GHG emissions, and lowering energy costs.
Under a PACE program, buildings’ energy efficiency is assessed and improvements are carried out by qualified contractors. The costs of these improvements are added to an owner’s property tax bill and may be repaid over a period of years with options for penalty-free repayment. PACE financing is tied to a property, so responsibility for repayment is transferable between owners.
Gas and diesel used by vehicles represents 34% of Calgary’s carbon footprint. Reducing vehicle emissions will assist with mitigating climate change as well as improve air quality. As the costs of electric vehicles continue to fall, a primary barrier to their adoption is lack of available charging infrastructure.
To facilitate increased transition towards electric vehicles, the City of Calgary must support the creation of 15 to 20 additional DC Fast Charge hubs spread out across the city. This would allow for most residents to access these stations within a 10 minute drive, similar to plans adopted by the City of Vancouver. These stations are capable of charging a vehicle to at least 80% of battery within 15 to 60 minutes. The cost to construct 15 to 20 DC Fast Charge hubs, each with four plug-ins, is likely to cost between $3-8 million. Partnerships with the private sector and green investors, as well as grants from other orders of government, are recommended sources of funding for this infrastructure.
In addition to supporting adoption of private electric vehicles, we must electrify the municipal fleet of transit and other vehicles to meet a more ambitious target of net zero emissions from municipally-owned assets by 2035.
ENMAX generates and distributes electricity to the vast majority of households in Calgary. Currently, 86% of electricity is generated through natural gas and 14% through renewable sources such as wind. Though the City Calgary lacks direct, regulatory jurisdiction over its electrical grid, its ownership of ENMAX provides a unique opportunity to influence GHG emissions from electricity generation.
It's important for City Council as ENMAX’s shareholder to request alignment between both organizations’ climate goals, requesting ENMAX to also achieve net zero GHG emissions from electricity generation by 2050. This provides ENMAX sufficient time to plan for the future, aligns with federal climate plans, and includes flexibility by allowing for the use of offset tools such as carbon capture, utilization, and storage.
Other electrical generators in Alberta, including TransAlta and Capital Power, have already committed to net zero emissions by 2050. In part, these commitments are made possible by substantial decreases in the costs of wind and solar power generation over the last decade.
Adapting to a changing climate
Since the floods of 2013, Calgary has made substantial progress on educating citizens and safeguarding property from flooding.
Though physical flood barriers and berms may be appropriate in many areas of the city, they are only one flood mitigation tool and may not be helpful in all communities. Upstream flood mitigation on the Bow River, similar to the Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir on the Elbow River, is also crucial for protecting our community. As the provincial government continues to assess options for a Bow River Reservoir, the City of Calgary must continue advocating for the best interests of Calgarians by supporting this vital project.
We must also take action to reduce impermeable surfaces - such as traditional paved parking lots - which cause increased stormwater run-off. Stormwater run-off increases flood risk by directing water horizontally across surfaces, where it may pool and damage structures. Managing run-off often requires expensive infrastructure. Though the 2009 Municipal Development Plan set a 60-year target of 10-20% impermeable surfaces, this figure increased to 44% by 2018. Calgary must take steps to reverse this trend by collaborating with private sector developers and piloting innovative permeable surface materials at City-owned facilities. We must also implement better incentives for low-impact development tools like green roofs.
Promoting durable building materials
During the hailstorm of 2020, over $1 billion in damage occurred, primarily in northeast Calgary communities. Though the municipality lacks direct control over building standards, we must consider introducing programs that encourage durable building materials, such as siding that can withstand intense hail. The City of Calgary must also demonstrate leadership through use of durable materials within its own facilities.
Policy Release May 14, 2021
We need to take more chances, be bold, and try the things that we have denied ourselves. Calgary’s downtown will require a combination of measures to evolve into a thriving space for those who wish to live, work, and play in our core. We need strategic investment, meaningful incentives, strong industry partnerships, and effective municipal leadership to get the downtown revitalized.
In a successful urban core, you can feel the excitement of people waiting at the light with tickets to the evening show proudly clutched in their hands. You can see the jerseys and cosplay gear of fans about to embark on an adventure that will transport them into an electric atmosphere for a few hours. You can hear the chatter and clinking glasses coming from restaurants and cafes, accompanied by the aroma of the masterpieces being assembled in bustling kitchens and smokehouses.
Think back to the “before times”, when a night out included starting off with your crew meeting up at the chosen spot, then walking to the next place and eventually wrapping up the evening with a dessert or nightcap in yet another location. No matter what city you’re in, what makes for a great experience is the loosely planned notion of setting out with a plan that would morph as your group decided “what’s next”. Knowing you’re in a district where “what’s next” is limitless should be ultimate goal of anyone planning for a vibrant city for residents and visitors alike.
Calgary has an incredible chance to get this right for our downtown core. We can evolve what we have into a thriving space for those who wish to live, work and play in our core. But this will require some strategic investment, meaningful incentives, strong industry partnerships and effective municipal leadership. It involves building the Green Line to ensure we have reliable transit service for people in all parts of the city wishing to engage with our downtown. And it requires a shift in mindset when we talk about downtown recovery.
Obviously, we need to address the vacancy crisis and we need to convert or create spaces for diverse types of businesses to occupy. We also need to understand how existing bylaws and policies hamper our ability to revitalize downtown. But the biggest factor in our success will be our ability to embrace the spirit of fun and excitement that we’re trying to create. If we go down the rabbit hole of treating this like an exercise in policy development, we’ll never get this right.
We don’t need to look too far for successful examples. Consider how East Village rose up out of the ground. That redevelopment project came with the standard attention to finances and planning principles. Yet it had a special focus that continues to capture our hearts: East Village is all about placemaking. It’s about creating spaces and places for people to gather, outside and inside. It’s about an unexpected mix of amenities that put a smile on your face. It’s everything that great city-building is about.
Sitting on the rooftop patio of the Simmons Building. Watching an impromptu game of pick up at Bounce. Sipping a coffee on the Riverwalk. All of these experiences make you feel like you’re part of something. We can reimagine and redevelop our downtown in the same way, if we focus on placemaking. When you prioritize the idea of cities as the intersection of people and places, you do great things.
The tools we need exist, and our task will be to assemble an approach that draws from our existing strengths. We must look to CMLC’s expertise in placemaking at the same time we look to the Calgary Downtown Association’s experience with the needs of their ratepayers. We must engage with the talented minds at Arts Commons, the Glenbow, Calgary Central Library and National Music Centre to ensure our new downtown radiates creativity. Leverage the engagement-based results that will deliver the Future of Stephen Avenue report, and implement recommendations of newly drafted Calgary’s Greater Downtown Plan, a document led by passionate planners and developed in concert with private sector experts in city-building.
Equally important, we need to get out of our own way as regulators. We should be encouraging pilot projects to see how they will work, rather than denying innovation because it doesn’t fit policy. Remove the fun-sucker conditions that permeate our dated policy documents and let people enjoy the spaces we’re creating. Practice calculated risk mitigation rather than defaulting to risk elimination when considering new ideas.
Let’s make sure we prioritize the need for people who understand how to program and activate spaces at the same time we seek out those who can generate the investor interest we’ll need. Embrace the non-traditional approach of engaging influencers to help shape the types of businesses and experiences that are popping in other places. If we build our approach in a way that allows for fun-makers to help shape the downtown experience, we’ll remain focused on the desired outcome.
So let’s take more chances. Put a rooftop patio on an office building. Encourage live music in atriums. Embrace the placement of an interactive art installation on a train platform. Let’s try the things that we denied ourselves, all in the name of overregulation. Let’s be bold and build our downtown to capture hearts and minds.
Delivering a Futureproof Downtown
Calgary’s downtown will require a combination of measures to evolve into a thriving space for those who wish to live, work and play in our core. We will need some strategic investment, meaningful incentives, strong industry partnerships and effective municipal leadership to get this important revitalization project completed.
What is the vacancy crisis?
The vacancy crisis in Calgary is the worst of any downtown core in North America. Currently, Calgary’s downtown office buildings are collectively valued at $9.4 billion, down from $24.6 billion dollars in 2014 prior to the oil price crash. During this time, Calgary’s downtown office vacancy rate has increased from 9.1% to 32.3%, resulting in 14 million square feet of empty commercial real estate.
This drastic decrease in downtown property values resulted in Calgary’s ongoing ‘tax shift’, where owners of commercial properties outside downtown have seen large increases in their property tax bills year-over-year as the municipality increasingly shifted the burden for the operating budget.
How complex is the issue?
Much of Calgary’s downtown was built in the 1970s and 1980s, when city planning was still operating on dated post-war ideals to separate work from home. As a result, Calgary developed an office-dominated downtown core with limited residential and other uses. This built form worked well for many years, when our downtown simply needed to provide office space for the energy sector. However, this currently challenges our efforts to attract new industries.
Companies in many sectors – like technology and the creative industries - prefer locating in mixed-use neighbourhoods that offer their people a variety of amenities in close proximity to work. As a result, some have suggested that we convert the downtown vacancies to residential units, but it’s not that simple. Not only is the conversion prospect impossible with aged building design in many cases, it is also costly. From a design perspective, the large floor plates that served corporate workforces in the second half of the twentieth century are not easily turned into residential units. Plumbing, elevator shafts and other structural issues prevent many vacant office spaces from serving as residential spaces.
The City of Calgary must also work to further reduce red tape and approval timelines for downtown developments that encourage non-office uses by building on the success of the Centre City Enterprise Area. Incentives and bylaw changes in support of building retrofits and a mix of amenities must be identified and implemented.
There is also the issue of investor confidence, which means that the money needed for conversions is not free-flowing. In an environment where Eastern lenders are still worried about Calgary’s future, it is increasingly difficult to make the case for conversion projects that have tight margins. This is farther compounded by issues like GST calculation, which results in GST being calculated on final projected building value rather than the dollar value of conversion-related projects. The cost of conversions creates roadblocks on the path to change.
Finally, Calgary’s downtown has also historically lacked the residential population base needed to support many neighbourhood amenities. These include grocery stores, schools and recreation facilities. The complex and interdependent relationship between amenity provision and residential population calls for a holistic and tailored approach, similar to the one taken in Calgary’s East Village redevelopment.
What do we know?
We must accept that rebuilding a downtown that is truly a place to live, work and visit will be a multi-year process. There is no quick fix. Rebuilding our downtown also requires significant investment. There must be dedicated municipal funding that will attract matching investment from the private sector and other orders of government, allowing Calgary to earn a return on our initial investment through meaningful transformation.
Our vision of “work” must also change in two fundamental ways:
1. the types of businesses we wish to attract should embrace a progressive economy that prioritizes environmental, economic and social benefit as a collective goal, and
2. people in the contemporary workforce must have options to balance competing interests in order to maximize productivity.
Our reimagined downtown must be a diverse place that welcomes people from all backgrounds, ages and abilities, who have multiple interests in the opportunities that are available. Right now, Calgary’s downtown is home to a central business district as well as cherished amenities and civic institutions, such as Arts Commons, Glenbow Museum, river pathways and some of the best-rated restaurants in Canada. We must build on this and redevelop downtown into a true mixed-use neighbourhood in service of our city’s fiscal, social and environmental goals.
We also need to understand the significance of the Green Line on downtown Calgary’s future. This project involves a significant infrastructure investment from all three orders of government in an effort to stimulate the economy through job creation. Most importantly, however, the Green Line ensures we have reliable transit service for people in all parts of the city wishing to engage with our downtown.
It is also important to recognize that there are about 8,500 Calgarians who already call the downtown core their home, yet they have no active community association. The City of Calgary must support the creation of a resident-led community association for the downtown core to ensure those Calgarians who live downtown are not overlooked in the revitalization process.
What can we do?
To get us started down the path of a contemporary downtown that is adaptable for the future, there are 5 bold steps that must be taken quickly:
1. Explore the bundling of City-owned assets into a portfolio to allow for third party management that draws value from those assets. Monetizing the City’s holdings would allow for a revenue stream that could be used for downtown redevelopment and ongoing maintenance.
2. To better leverage assets located in the downtown, responsibility for municipal land and buildings must be consolidated within the City of Calgary’s Real Estate & Development Services business unit. This would enable collaboration with the commercial real estate sector to identify City-owned assets attractive to potential businesses.
3. Leverage the experience and knowledge of commercial real estate and finance experts, including groups like Calgary Economic Development’s Real Estate Sector Advisory Committee and the City of Calgary’s Real Estate Working Group. These professionals can assist in uncovering opportunities for conversion of office space to retail, education or residential uses, as well as identification of sites where existing buildings are in disrepair and better used for new construction.
4. Building on the commitment made by major global corporations in transitioning toward a more efficient and environmentally-friendly energy future, bolster Calgary Economic Development’s existing vision: “As the epicentre of all things energy, Calgary is a leader in the global energy transition.” Seek out local business leaders who are actively contributing to this transition and invite them to act as business-to-business ambassadors on economic development missions that position Calgary as a centre of excellence for the future of energy.
5. Identify incentives or bylaw changes that would better facilitate retrofits to buildings. For example, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing solutions can enable building owners to access affordable financing for clean energy retrofits, resulting in any improvement costs being offset by lower utility costs over time. Also, identifying the way in which current GST practices provide a disincentive for conversions could create a more friendly environment for change.
Policy Release April 7, 2021
In order to advance housing affordability and approaches to address homelessness, we require strong municipal leadership that can develop innovative funding mechanisms and robust collaboration across sectors.
Cities around the world are struggling with housing affordability and homelessness. In Calgary,
these challenges have been magnified first by the decline of the traditional energy sector and
now the COVID-19 pandemic. Our current situation will see an increasing proportion of the
population in positions of precariousness related to employment, housing and social supports.
Even prior to the pandemic, we saw worrisome trends. In 2016, over 100,000 households in Calgary (22%), overspent on housing costs in relation to their income. We also saw income support programs consistently fail to cover the cost of housing and other basic needs for our most vulnerable. By 2019, an average of 350 Calgarians per month were admitted to a homeless shelter for the first time.
With rising unemployment further compounded by pandemic-related restrictions on businesses, many Calgarians who were just getting by are now finding themselves in situations they cannot escape through hard work alone. Losing a job can often lead to losing your home. For this reason, we must ensure that any ideas we have around housing are also rooted in access to employment, access to health or social supports, and access to mobility options like public transit.
Further, homelessness and housing affordability challenges do not impact all parts of our community equally. While Indigenous peoples make up less than 3% of Calgary’s population, they represented over 20% of people experiencing homeless in 2014. Tailored, collaborative, and culturally appropriate solutions are needed to serve these and other marginalized populations.
There has also been a historic and prevailing trend towards valuing homeownership over rental. The inception of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) in 1945 fueled the post-war ideal of: 1) positioning homeownership as a marker of financial success, and 2) separating places of work from places to live. These two sentiments dominated the dialogue around housing for decades and we are only now slowly returning to city-building practices that mix housing types and amenities for more complete communities.
How complex is the issue?
Experts in homelessness, affordable housing, land development, construction and mortgage financing often frame the housing debate as one that is multifaceted. They ask tough questions that highlight the interconnectedness of housing solutions, like:
• How do you create resilience for people who are at different stages and places on the housing continuum?
• How do you create and fund portable support services that follow the individual who is deemed “hard to house” because a high level of support is required?
• What is the total operating cost of a unit of housing that meets minimum standard, so we can then determine how much income people need to have safe housing?
• Are we looking at supply, demand and price point of inventory as we are determining affordability?
These types of questions speak to the difference between affordable housing as a type of subsidized unit, and the idea of housing affordability as a way to offer access to housing. By shifting the approach from a narrow focus on non-profit affordable housing to a broader view of housing, the City of Calgary can better address underlying affordability problems across the spectrum.
This shift in approach also speaks to the dichotomy between the user and the housing provider. When it comes to the user, governments and housing agencies must understand the links between income, rent or mortgage payments, and wraparound supports required to maintain a roof over one’s head. For the housing provider, governments need to be aware of how regulatory decisions impact both the costs to build and the costs to operate housing.
The role of the municipality
The City of Calgary currently plays a dual role in promoting affordable housing: both as a subsidized housing provider (Calgary Housing Company) and as a service-based supporter of the city’s non-profit housing sector. To best serve Calgarians, there should be a concerted shift towards supporting affordability across the housing continuum, from non-market housing to market rental or homeownership. Added focus on research, capacity-building, incentives and support for innovative practices across the housing system beyond direct provision of affordable housing would ultimately serve more Calgarians.
To best support this idea, Calgary City Council should solidify housing as a priority by adding “Housing” as a standing item to the work of the Priorities and Finance Committee, thereby elevating housing from its present status as an intergovernmental policy issue to an actual priority within the City of Calgary.
This broadened focus would enable the City of Calgary to begin work on high-impact initiatives such as:
● Creating an interactive platform that measures the effectiveness of affordable housing incentives, and demonstrating how these incentives balance policy and profitability needs. This platform could build on the Housing Development Dashboard created by the Terner Centre for Housing at UC Berkeley.
● Assessing regulatory variables like approval times, density, parking, mixed uses and discretionary approvals to create mutually beneficial housing outcomes.
● Encouragement of mixed tenure housing opportunities, ranging from basic rental and ownership to housing cooperatives and perpetually affordable housing projects.
● Working with local financial institutions to develop a methodology around credit-worthiness for consumers that goes beyond the traditional beacon score assessment which does not serve newcomers or those without established credit. Similarly, propose new methods of risk assessment for affordable housing providers to deliver housing security along the continuum.
This new approach will create value for Calgarians by filling gaps in current practices, recognizing the variety of Calgarians’ housing needs, and focusing on how cost and red tape for new housing can be reduced. Through a holistic approach and improved coordination of existing resources, we can achieve better results for our citizens.
While “Housing First” has become a successful approach, it only works when wraparound services and supports are available to the people served. These services include but are not limited to counselling, healthcare, addictions treatment and employment training. A collaborative model of funding wraparound services is needed to ensure they can be provided sustainably. This also demonstrates the interconnectedness of public, private and finance sectors in delivering housing security.
The City of Calgary must also better support Indigenous-led efforts to address homelessness. Research suggests that approaches informed by Indigenous worldviews, including elder-led service delivery, are most effective at addressing homelessness within these communities.
Press Release March 30, 2021
Great cities have great transit. The Green line will revitalize Calgary’s economy and better serve citizens in communities that have been overlooked. Connecting our diverse business districts is good for business. The Green Line will connect 400,000 more Calgarians to the LRT network. And along the way, the Green line creates investment opportunities to complete communities, aid in housing affordability and drive redevelopment that can strengthen our tax base.
Public transit is an investment that a city makes for all of its citizens. Great cities have great public transit.
Historically, there has been negativity and opposition as Calgary created its light rail transit (LRT) network. Criticism of projects like the Green Line isn’t new.
When Ralph Klein opened Calgary’s first LRT line from Calgary’s downtown (our central business district) to Anderson Road, there was much criticism directed at the Mayor and Council. Nevertheless, Council persisted and built both the northwest and northeast Lines, today’s Red and Blue lines.
Years later, the same negativity and opposition faced a new Mayor and Council when the west LRT was proposed. In the end, the west leg of the LRT was constructed between 2007 and 2010, and now serves many Calgarians who rely on it for work, school and recreation.
While extensions to the existing lines and improvements in stations have occurred in the years since, construction of Calgary’s critical north-south raid transit spine, the Green Line, has been stalled due to alignment concerns and the significant cost involved.
And now that we have created a strong alignment and funding has been committed from all orders of government, the same historic criticisms keep creeping into the discourse and threaten to keep us from being a forward-thinking city.
Sometimes you just have to get started.
That’s why Jyoti Gondek has fought for the Green Line to be a progressive, multimodal project that evolves and bus rapid transit into LRT for dedicated transit riders in Calgary’s north central communities, all the way down to the deep Southeast in Seton.
Today’s plans are more important than any previous sections. Why? Because Calgary has more than one commercial core now and residential growth requires increased transit service.
Connecting Calgary’s Business Centres
When Mayor Klein drove that first LRT car from downtown Calgary to Anderson Road, Calgary was less than 600,000 people and our downtown core was the primary commercial centre in the city.
Since then, we became smarter about investing in public transit that serves our post-secondary corridors, as well as commercial sectors throughout the city. A great example is the northeast commercial core has been well served for over three decades.
Today, Calgary has additional commercial centres in Quarry Park and the south health campus, as well as an actively developing commercial district on Centre Street North. It will be important to ensure that be these connect to each other for success of business and ease of access for transit riders along this north-south spine.
By constructing the Green Line, Calgary will revitalize its economy and better serve transit riders in communities that have long been overlooked.
When Imperial Oil made the impactful decision to relocate their headquarters to Quarry Park, they signalled the reality that Calgary’s economic future would not be developed solely in a single downtown commercial core.
Connecting our diverse business districts throughout the city is simply good for business.
Connecting Calgary’s Residential Communities
North central Calgary has long been a leader in transit usage and is the corridor that delivers the greatest value on investment for Calgary Transit. In addition, the population growth in new north communities has also bolstered the business case for transit infrastructure development on the north central corridor as ridership numbers are consistently strong over time.
Similarly, population growth in southeast Calgary has been steady and residents are desperately seeking solid transit solutions. Connecting them with public transit just makes sense.
It was a massive victory in summer 2020 when Council included funding for a functional plan that brings convertible rapid transit solutions to north central Calgary communities. This interim solution improves transit options in the short term with more dedicated rapid bus service and lays the foundation for conversion to LRT in the longer term.
This public transit solution connects some 400,000 Calgarians to the existing LRT network and that reaches our commercial and educational corridors, as well as many arts, culture and recreation destinations.
Opening Up Transit Oriented Development
In addition to serving transit riders throughout the city, Calgary has been very successful at integrating transit oriented development into our existing public transit network. The Green Line represents a tremendous opportunity to create additional investment opportunities that can complete communities, aid in housing affordability and drive redevelopment opportunities that can strengthen our tax base.
Creating a mix of uses and higher density opportunities along the transit lines has been a very effective way to reduce the amount of traffic on major roadways, while creating significant economic activity and having a large impact on climate change. With more Calgarians able to access rapid transit to meet their commuting needs through well planned transit oriented communities, we can became a leader in the smart city movement that stands to attract and retain talented people who are proud to live and work in this city.
Shifting Transportation Attention from Deerfoot Trail to Public Transportation
Perhaps the greatest potential impact of the Green Line will be felt on Deerfoot Trail.
You may not be aware that Deerfoot Trail is a provincial highway, and as such the City of Calgary cannot independently implement or plan changes for this roadway to make it more efficient.
Even with this limitation, the best way the City Council can reduce traffic and make Deerfoot Trail more efficient is through the development of the Green Line. With hundreds of thousands of Calgarians having access to a strong rapid transit option, there is little doubt that demand for Deerfoot Trail will diminish.
This is a significant shift that the Government of Alberta should welcome as it impacts a significant part of their transportation network. You have to ask yourself, why would the provincial government remain an obstacle to creating this important part of Calgary’s public transportation network when it offers so much benefit for those who use personal vehicles as well as those who use transit.
17 Points of Fiscal Responsibility
The Provincial government has been committed to the Green Line and then not committed. And then committed. And then not.
Bottom line: they are currently standing in the path of this project that is critical for future-proofing our city.
Calgary City Council has been listening to the concerns of the Premier and his Ministers responsible for city-building. In response to their concerns, Calgary City Council adopted 17 integrated risk management recommendations to address key areas of concern from the Provincial Government. With the due diligence and risk mitigation measures outlined in the recommendations below, it begs the questions: what more does the provincial government need to see?
The Green Line Committee recommends that Council:
1. Reconsider its decision of 2017 June 26 as it relates to approving the alignment and station locations of Stage 1 (16 Avenue N (Crescent Heights) to 126 Avenue S (Shepard)) and approve the updated Stage 1 alignment and station locations outlined in the revised Attachment 3. (For clarity, this is a reconsideration only of the alignment and station locations in Stage 1);
2. Direct Administration to implement a stage-gate process for delivery of Green Line Stage 1 Program (“Stage 1”) in accordance with the following Segments as outlined in the revised Attachment 3:
a. Segment 1: 126 Avenue S.E. (Shepard) to East of the Elbow River (Inglewood/Ramsay);
b. Segment 2A: East of the Elbow River (Inglewood/Ramsay) to 2 Avenue S.W. Station (Eau Claire); and
c. Segment 2B: North of 2 Avenue S.W. Station (Eau Claire) to 16 Avenue N;
3. Reconsider its decision of 2019 July 29 by approving the substitution of the word ‘Segment’ for the word ‘Contract’ and the substitution of the words ‘East of the Elbow River (Inglewood/Ramsay)’ for the words ‘4th Street SE’ wherever they appear in the decision;
4. Direct Administration to undertake the Segment 2A Functional LRT Plan and report back to the Green Line Committee with the results of the Segment 2A Functional LRT Plan no later than the end of Q4 2020;
5. Direct Administration to undertake the Segment 2B Functional LRT Plan and to continue stakeholder engagement and communications in Segment 2B as required while completing the following plans:
• Mobility Studies Plan;
• Access Management Plan;
• Streetscape Plan; and
• Bow River Bridge Plan.
6. Direct Administration to report back to the Green Line Committee with the results of the above plans no later than the end of Q2 2021;
7. Direct Administration to release the RFP for Segment 1 no later than 2020 July 24, execute required contracts and proceed with Segment 1 provided the Segment 1 cost estimate, including contingency, is estimated at no less than P80 and is within the Council approved Green Line Program budget;
8. Direct Administration to develop a contracting strategy for Segments 2A and 2B;
9. Direct Administration to prepare and release the procurement for Segment 2A provided the Segment 2A cost estimate, including contingency, is estimated at no less than P80 and is within the Council approved Green Line Program budget, and execute required contracts for Segment 2A and proceed with construction of Segment 2A;
10. Direct Administration to prepare and release the procurement for Segment 2B but not enter into a commitment to construct Segment 2B until Administration has determined that the construction of Segment 2A has sufficiently advanced to materially demonstrate that the Stage 1 cost estimate, including contingency, is estimated at no less than P80 and is within the Council approved Green Line Program budget. Once Administration has determined this and reported to Council, execute required contracts for Segment 2B and proceed with the construction of Segment 2B;
11. Direct Administration to advance enabling works construction in Segment 2A and 2B that materially reduces Segment 2A and 2B risk or advances their critical path schedule. Enabling works include but are not limited to utility relocations, demolition of existing buildings, environmental remediation and construction preparation activities;
12. In accordance with Council’s direction on 2019 July 29 direct Administration to continue working with our funding partners to obtain agreement that any capital cost savings from the Green Line Stage 1 Program be applied to extension(s) south to McKenzie Towne or north to 40 Avenue N, the extension(s) to be determined utilizing the RouteAhead Project Prioritization Framework, and options to negotiate such extension(s) to be included in the contracts;
13. Direct that the primary focus of the Green Line Committee shift to planning for Stage 2 of the Green Line (the balance of 160 Avenue N to Seton) with an emphasis on North Central Calgary and the creation of a flexible and convertible mobility corridor in preparation for LRT that accommodates BRT and transit-on-demand as interim options until full funding for LRT can be secured, as well as the process of LRT and Transit- Oriented Development planning, with the goal of improving transit in North Central Calgary in the short and long term. Any updates to the Terms of Reference for the Green Line Committee as a result of this new focus shall be presented to the Committee no later than end of Q3 2020;
14. Direct Administration to develop a Functional Plan for a flexible and convertible mobility corridor in North Central Calgary from 160 Avenue to Downtown (including but not limited to improvements identified in Attachments 7a and 7b) and return with recommendations for which improvements can be accommodated within the Council approved Green Line Program budget. This Functional Plan shall:
a. Take into consideration the mode progression from express buses to a convertible BRT/LRT mobility corridor from 160 Avenue N to Downtown, including but not limited to the improvements identified in Attachment 7b from 160 Avenue N to 96 Avenue N; and
b. Identify potential funding sources and strategies required to construct improvements beyond the funding that is part of the Council approved Green Line Program budget. Administration to report back to the Green Line Committee no later than the end of Q2 2021 with the functional plan and the delivery plan for the funded improvements;
15. Direct Administration to proceed with the real property transactions based on the updated Stage 1 alignment as outlined in the revised Attachment 3, including the North Central BRT Improvements, in accordance with the procedures as outlined in the previously approved Proposed Delegated Authority, Stage 1 Green Line Project [C2018- 0333];
16. Direct Administration to:
a. Advise the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta of Council’s approval of the recommendations in this report;
b. Secure any required amendments to the funding agreement, such amendments to include but not be limited to the Government of Canada agreeing to expedite the release of its funding contributions to help mitigate debt financing costs; and
c. Secure written assurances from the Government of Alberta resolving the issues related to the 90-day termination provision contained in the Public Transit and Green Infrastructure Project Act (Alberta).
All amendments and written assurances are to be in content satisfactory to the City Manager and the Chief Financial Officer and in form satisfactory to the City Solicitor and General Counsel. Should all amendments and written assurances not be secured by the end of Q4 2020 direct Administration to report back to the Priorities and Finance Committee;
17. Notwithstanding the approvals above, and provided that the total Green Line Program Stage 1 cost does not exceed the Council approved Green Line Program budget, should significant additional funding for public transit become available, direct Administration to return to the Priorities and Finance Committee with recommendations for investments outlined in the Route Ahead prioritization strategy (including north and south extensions of the Green Line). Further, if adjustments to the Green Line Program are required to attract additional funding, direct Administration to make recommendations to Council regarding those adjustments and funding opportunities.
Press Release February 24, 2021
The UCP Government, like every provincial government that preceded it, collects more taxes from Calgarians than it returns in the form of grants or returned investment. On average, almost $800 million is collected by the City every year and then sent to the Province, with the hope some of it will be returned in grants. In 2019, Calgary only received about $650 million back from the Province.
The City of Calgary collects property taxes on behalf of the City and the Province of Alberta. The amounts of money remitted to the Province are not inconsequential. Almost $800 million is collected by the City every year and then sent to the Province, with the hope some of it will be returned in grants by a benevolent provincial partner. In 2019, Calgary only received about $650 million back from the Province. However, this $650 million doesn’t account for time and effort spent in applying for grants and preparing related reports for the Government of Alberta.
This is the exact same problem the Province of Alberta faces with its relationship with the Government of Canada. Alberta pays more than it gets in return from Canada, just as Calgary pays more than it gets in return from Alberta.
|$797 million||$792 million||$790 million||$791 million||$719 million|
The Infrastructure Dilemma
This amount is particularly challenging when considering the infrastructure in the City of Calgary serves not only Calgarians, but the entire region that surrounds the city. Neighbouring municipalities that attract logistics and industrial businesses by undercutting property tax rates benefit from Calgary providing transportation routes, airport infrastructure, housing and recreation facilities that are solely funded by Calgarians but enjoyed by the region.
The dilemma of who is paying their fair share becomes more acute as important public-serving, economic stimulus projects like the Green Line are contemplated. It is also important as we consider the closure of public amenities that are no longer viable for the government or the private sector to operate. Dedicated provincial funding streams for much-needed infrastructure must replace the red tape of unpredictable and sometimes unavailable grant programs. Quality of life for Calgarians depends on it.
The Fair Deal Panel – Equalization & the Referendum Question
In May of 2020, the Government of Alberta received a report from the Fair Deal Panel, a panel of Albertans tasked with looking at issues that have emerged between the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta.
The Fair Deal for Alberta’s first two recommendations are:
• RECOMMENDATION | Press strenuously for the removal of current constraints on the Fiscal Stabilization Program that prevent Albertans from receiving a $2.4 billion equalization rebate.
• RECOMMENDATION | Proceed with the proposed referendum on equalization, asking a clear question along the lines of: Do you support the removal of Section 36—the principle of equalization—from The Constitution Act, 1982?
Clearly, this equalization question is almost exactly the same as the issue of property taxes collected by the City of Calgary and remitted to the Province of Alberta.
The UCP Government, like every provincial government that preceded it, collects more taxes from Calgarians than it returns in the form of grants or returned investment.
The Solution: A Fair Deal for Calgary
Given that the Government of Alberta is planning to follow the recommendations listed above and will have a referendum on the value of equalization in the nation of Canada, a parallel question should be adopted to discuss the equalization and distribution of revenues by the Province of Alberta.
Why does a Fair Deal Matter?
If Calgary is to stabilize its economy and return to a place where all residents have access to the services they need, there will need to be straightforward and predictable solutions offered by the provincial government. After massive cuts to previously established and promised infrastructure funding, and elimination of critical social support services for Calgarians in positions of vulnerability, the provincial government has placed the city in an impossible situation.
Calgary has been left to fend for its residents with a dated and inefficient taxation model that relies on property taxes. Because property taxes go up and down based on assessed value of buildings, and downtown buildings have depreciated dramatically with the collapse of the traditional energy sector, Calgary’s only predictable revenue stream has steadily decreased.
The fact that assessment-based property tax is the only reliable revenue tool the provincial government has granted to the city, it stands to reason that it is also the only reliable way to ensure a fair deal can be struck quickly and efficiently. By allowing Calgary to keep a larger percentage of the property taxes that are collected, the provincial government would enable the city to address important infrastructure and operating funding shortfalls.
When you consider that 1% of taxes retained equal $8 million of reinvestment into the city, imagine the improved quality of life for Calgarians by retaining a greater proportional share of the taxes they pay. That translates to better public transit, the ability to keep recreation facilities open, more accessible communities and programming to lift up those in need. All Calgarians deserve the fairness that comes from keeping their hard-earned tax dollars in their city.
Press Release February 22, 2021