Recently, during the by-election in Calgary Centre, mayor Nenshi injected himself into the campaign. Under the guise of holding a forum to discuss municipal issues, he cleverly engineered an attack on the Conservative candidate who did not attend the meeting.
While the merits of candidates attending forums may be deliberated, the mayor surrounded by candidates from the left, berated Joan Crockatt for being the ‘elephant not in the room”. He proceeded to use the meeting to tout the idea that cities should get more money from the federal government, an issue that he had been discussing with his municipal counterparts in Ottawa.
Government funding and transfers from higher to lower governments is a perennial debate in Canada, but the real issue of how services should be delivered is never put forward. Mayor Nenshi has adopted his predecessor’s mantra of seeking more funds for infrastructure while taxing Calgarians, but has refused to use alternative ways of providing services to Calgarians, through systemic privatization or managed competition.
During his mayoral campaign he portrayed himself as a fiscal expert. Once elected he discarded ‘zero base budgeting’ for a concoction called ‘zero base reviews’ and accepted a fabricated ‘city inflation’ rate when the true inflation rate is below 2%. Last year Calgarians had a 10% tax increase. This year Council proposes a 5.7% increase. Calgary continues to push the idea that our taxes are lower than most cities in Canada. However rates and fees are increasing at a faster rate. For example the seniors’ transit fee will see a massive increase from $55 to $95. Water and Sewer and garbage bins rates will also increase. The Aldermanic budgets will see increases of $383,000 for communication and education purposes. In fact Calgarians are being nickelled and dimed to death.
The problem is that the budget process is staged and has become a sham. We appropriate savings and increase spending, instead of reducing taxes. Any money from the province is quickly appropriated and used for needless expenditures. At the same time Council continues to say there is not enough money. Calgarians on the other hand have taken a disengaged attitude as they continue to support the mayor in his quest for another term.
In a recent poll the Mayor received an 88% approval. The question is why? This mayor has done nothing to alleviate the tax burden of Calgarians. He proposes an alternative budget and yet there is more new spending instead of necessary cuts which could have been made through zero base budgeting. True there have been less acrimonious debates at City hall but the result has not produced savings or efficiencies. Savings and transfers from the province, if any, have not been translated in any tax reduction. Instead we are taking money out of reserves to balance the books.
Calgarians should really take a good look at the performance of Council under Mayor Nenshi’s leadership. Nothing has changed in the financial affairs of the city. We have seen more expenditures and discussions such as ‘shark fin’ soup and capital expenditure for Crowchild Trail, while existing problems are put on the back burner. We continue to blame suburban development for the city’s ills. Yet we do not recognize that growth is not the problem, but that city hall’s ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’ policies to manage growth are the real problem.
There is nothing wrong to be ambitious or a liberal for that matter, but to pretend to be looking after Calgarians’ interest while discretely campaigning for a candidate is not. While the Mayor did not campaign directly for Harvey Locke the Liberal candidate, many of his supporters during the mayoral elections did. he certainly took the opportunity to rub shoulders with all the visiting Liberals seeking the leadership of their party.
Conservatives beware; the real elephant in the room is the Mayor, who is planning his next steps to reach higher office. A disguised liberal, who discusses the concerns of Calgarians, without delivering any improvements, is yet another strategy from this very clever politician.