Brad on the Issues

Finance, Economy and Taxes

A Better Way to Budget
It isn’t a zero-sum game. Cutting services or raising taxes don’t have to be the only two choices. We must first decide how much Calgarians can afford to invest in our city, and then which services mean the most to them. Often we’ll find it isn’t the Councillors’ pet projects that Calgarians value most.


Value for Money


Most Calgarians – including me – can name a long list of examples where the City does not spend efficiently. Sometimes, in the name of “saving”, we’ll spend $1000 to save $100. Or Council predicts a 5% spending increase, and then limits it to 3%, and claims we’ve “saved” money. Someone needs to explain to me why we need a seven-year pilot project about how to collect garbage, or why we should be conducting a city-wide survey on traffic patterns when we are in a pandemic lockdown and not supposed to leave our homes.

If we rooted out ineffective and wasteful spending practices, we’d find most of the dollars we need to invest in the services Calgarians value most highly.


Economic Recovery


Easily said, harder to do. We must first support the local businesses that survived the pandemic. That means predictable, reasonable taxes and smart business policies like accessible parking for customers. It means attracting tax-paying tenants to the empty downtown buildings, whether they be business, educational, incubators and research, or even residential. It costs twice as much to bring a new business here and get them set up as it does to support one that is already operating.

But we do need new businesses, too, especially in new industries. High-potential industries in Calgary include distribution and logistics, food and agriculture, high tech, recreation and tourism, and arts, culture and film production. Small and medium businesses are not only the engine of the economy, they are also usually the fastest movers. We need the conditions in which those businesses will choose to open their doors in Calgary with confidence in a stable future.

That all means we must have the environment in which job creating industries can thrive, whether existing businesses that need to grow or new ones that need to establish themselves here. That doesn’t mean throwing money at them, but it does mean featuring and enhancing our many assets, including an educated work force, a livable city with culture and recreation, and economic policies that are stable and based on common sense.

It also means better collaboration between several city agencies which are all mandated to attract business and industry, but operate quite independently.

We must have the environment in which job creating industries can thrive, whether existing businesses that need to grow or new ones that need to establish themselves here.

Taxes


Calgarians don’t want a free ride, but they do want good services at a reasonable cost for their investment in this city. We can’t keep looking to the citizens and businesses of Calgary to pick up the tab for poor operations. If I have to lay people off in my business to pay my taxes, taxation is not the solution. You can’t tax a business that has closed its doors. And we can’t keep asking households to cut their spending in other areas just to pay more to the tax and fee collector.


World Class City


I want Calgary to be recognized as a world class city that tourists want to visit, that businesses and their employees want to locate in, and that conventions choose for their meetings. I want world class concerts, shows and sporting events to come here. I’m proud of Calgary and I want to show us off.

World Class cities have good transit systems, arts and culture, recreational options, friendly people (we’ve got that one nailed!) and a distinct personality (more than just cowboys and horses for two weeks, although everybody does love our cowboys and horses!). I know Calgarians want to build that city. Let’s do it together!


Transit


The Green Line has been approved after extensive study and debate, so it is time to get on with it, and create the jobs we need today that will be created while we are constructing it. Of course we need to keep a very close eye on the price tag and any unanticipated cost overruns, and be prepared to make any adjustments that are shown to be necessary as we move forward, but let’s not fall into paralysis by analysis.

World Class Cities offer world class transit options, and the Green Line will bring transit service to some very underserved parts of the city.

I am personally disappointed that it – or another link – won’t go to the airport. World Class Cities have easy and inexpensive links between their airports and their downtowns. Calgary doesn’t.

This discourages tourists who are destined to the Rockies from spending a day or two exploring Calgary, staying in a hotel, eating meals, buying souvenirs and visiting our attractions. Imagine if it was easy for a tourist to arrive at YYC, come downtown for a couple of days, and then continue their journey to the mountains. Why aren’t we thinking bigger and globally? I would like to seriously look at ways to address this issue, although that does not mean rerouting the Green Line at this late stage.


Greening the City


I am supportive of examining the business case for bold steps toward a greener city. Those options include creating better infrastructure for electric vehicles, looking at the city’s fleet to ensure we are getting green value wherever possible, and considering alternative energy sources to ensure the city’s many facilities have the right energy mix.


A City of Opportunity


Like most Calgarians, I am appalled that there are citizens without a roof over their head. I believe in housing first, a principle that asserts that if you can first help a person find a stable and safe place to live, other issues can be addressed more readily, whether it is a need for job and living skills, for addiction or mental health treatment, or treatment of physical challenges or illnesses. And frankly, statistics show that we will spend less money responding to emergencies when people live in a home, than we will spend by building those homes.

I also believe quite passionately in a city in which everyone has the opportunity to be their best and pursue their dreams. Systemic racism exists, and it must be rooted out because it is not only soul-destroying, but it holds people back from their potential. It is simply wrong.

That is also true for people who face discrimination for any other reason. Discrimination is morally wrong, and it prevents people from contributing fully to this city that we all love. I can’t fix everything, but I can set an example at the top. I can learn about the impediments Calgary’s citizens face, and do what I can to change what needs to be changed. I’ve started by listening to people. Sometimes those conversations are uncomfortable – and ought to be – and I commit to ongoing listening and acting.

Accountability


COUNCILLOR PAY AND EXPENSES


Councillor and Mayor jobs are management level positions, and it is appropriate to pay at that level. The trouble is that Calgary doesn’t always get management level output, and judgement seems sometimes to be lacking in using taxpayer dollars for hosting and expenses. The point isn’t whether the policy permits it to be done, but whether taxpayers are getting good value for the expenditure. Councillors should be expected to be able to make that decision.

Another cost to Calgarians is the further erosion of trust in our municipal government. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for a government to move forward with good leadership and solid plans when they’ve lost the trust of those they govern – and even harder when our elected leaders don’t even trust each other.

As for pensions, many Calgarians have no pension at all, let alone a “defined benefit” plan which is the best of the best. While we must honour contracts and agreements made in good faith, we need to take a look at pensions and consider, on a go-forward basis, whether civic pensions should be closer in design to private sector plans or alternative arrangements.