Thank you for finding your way to this post reflecting on my first 100 days as the Councillor for Ward 12. My office team and I are pleased to report on the work that has been done with the new City Council — and even more excited about the work ahead of us. While the adjustment has been intense, I am enjoying the challenge and the opportunities every day presents to serve Ward 12 and all Calgarians.
You may recall, I campaigned with a 100 Day plan, focusing on five specific priorities gleaned from what I heard from you at the doors and in the community. What you will find below is an update around those priorities and the actions we have been able to take thus far. Influencing these priorities has been a considerable learning process and requires establishing strong relationships. All five priorities are large and multifaceted and will continue to be priorities over the full four-year term.
On a personal note, my wife and children have been gracious and accommodating with the changing routines and for that I am extremely grateful. We have reclaimed our weekend getaways to the mountains and thoroughly enjoyed the Christmas break with the time it provided for much-needed rest and relaxation.
Priority: Activate Calgarians
Under this priority, my goal is to give better tools and access to Calgarians to shape their own neighbourhoods, while addressing the disconnect between citizens and City Hall.
Here is some of what we have initiated so far:
Very early on we began engaging with Administration around the liabilities that give rise to bylaws that limit Calgarians from doing very natural things in their communities. For Ward 12 residents, some of the biggest complaints are being limited from doing our own snow removal on our streets and greening up our spaces.
The goal remains to change bylaws or create a process to allow Calgarians to contribute to caring for our urban canopy and green spaces, clearing snow, creating experiences and events, and more — with greater ease and fewer restrictions or bylaw infractions.
Our focus has been on cooperating with different City business units to test out how this might work. So far, we have found early reception with Roads around snow clearing. The short-term goal is to solidify a process that can be handled by 311 that registers Calgarians to participate in snow clearing without being in violation of the bylaw. Long-term, we are dreaming that this will be incorporated into an app that includes the registration process, training, and deployment (eg. selecting a street you are clearing or a park you are organizing care for).
My life-long passion, and initial motivation for running to be your Councillor, is helping people become great neighbours as a means of improving connection, mental health, and social resilience. Never has this been more obviously necessary than through the Covid-19 pandemic era.
As such, our Ward 12 team has found real receptivity from Council colleagues around possible grassroots neighbourhood-organizing initiatives. Sharing stories of impacts from my work bringing Abundant Community Edmonton initiatives to Mahogany has highlighted the value of neighbouring — both as a program and as a mindset — to influence other Councillors to imagine how to connect City Council priorities, like mental health and social resilience, to our work back in our Wards.
Our office will be advocating for increased funding for citizen-led initiatives as part of the 2023-26 budget deliberations which fits in particularly well with a future neighbouring initiative. We have been researching the work of other municipalities and will be starting conversations with Administration in the very near future.
One of the most important take-aways from the campaign trail was that many citizens do not feel they have a voice in their communities and the City. Ward 12, like every area of the City, has both common and highly unique needs that make up our mosaic. I campaigned on finding a way for citizens to have a localized voice to bring back to Council.
This work is just beginning. Where it makes sense, we will invite Ward 12 constituents to participate on City-led panels. Additionally, local Ward 12 panels are starting soon.
With this 100 Days update, you will find the registration link for the first of our advisory panels. We remain committed to inviting knowledgeable voices to the table to give insight on important subjects. The first panel we are organizing will meet monthly alongside the four-year budget deliberations that Council will be undertaking this year.
Click here to apply to join the Budget Advisory Panel that will begin meeting on March 3rd (first Thursday of each month — April 7th, May 5th, June 2nd, July 7th, Sept 8th, Oct 6th).
Priority: Value for Tax Dollars
Under this priority, I outlined my desire to fight for — and demonstrate the value of — your tax dollars. I knew that to deliver on this priority I would need to rapidly immerse myself into an intense learning curve related to municipal finances. So, I lobbied to ensure the Committees I joined would be the Audit Committee, Business Advisory Committee, and Infrastructure Planning Committee. I also registered for a university course in municipal finance to further supplement this learning.
While the learning curve is steep, there are some initiatives the Ward 12 team has been able to engage in right away.
Here’s what we have been involved in so far:
The first few weeks on Council were spent looking at and approving mid-cycle adjustments. In my voting, I prioritized spending on items that Ward 12 citizens identified as priorities. This included road maintenance, with $10 million added back into the Roads budget for ongoing maintenance — removed by the previous Council.
This is a smart investment and a perfect example of what “value for tax dollars” means. Why? Neglected roads deteriorate quickly and resurfacing a road in the future costs far more than responsible maintenance right now.
Address Phased Tax Program (PTP)
The tax deferral program (Phased Tax Program), that has already cost the City well in excess of $200 million from our Fiscal Stability Reserve, is being discontinued. This was a priority for me as it was pushing off the impacts of our economic woes down the road. The program was started to curb the overall increases to our non-residential tax base but discontinuing it means that previously subsidized revenue has to be realized elsewhere. It is time to deal with the full ramifications and that means a significant portion of the tax load will be shifting to residential. This forces us to face the reality of our situation head on and make the necessary adaptations.
By focusing on business growth, especially downtown, we will take steps to improve this imbalance. A stronger base of non-residential taxpayers means the residential payers aren’t making up a shortfall. I will remain committed to a business-friendly approach that attracts investment for the benefit of all.
New Revenue Model
Establishing a new revenue model is a big priority for this new Council. This is extremely complicated work and connected to the other levels of government. While I am very excited to see this on the priority list, I am deferring to more senior members of Council to spearhead while supporting wherever possible.
Priority: Community Safety
Under this priority, I outlined my desire to see community come together and enhance our collective safety while ensuring proper resourcing.
Here are some actions taken so far:
During the campaign period, I heard from many of you that you are concerned about safety in Ward 12. I also spoke to members of the Calgary Police Service who were feeling the full weight of the pandemic, mental health, and morale issues. As well, there is increased scrutiny due to global attention on racism in law enforcement. As such, I voted in favour of a budget increase as most is allocated to address these specific human resource issues. A portion of the budget is also delegated to adding more sworn members to the CPS.
We know Ward 12 residents have requested more localized police presence in our area — an area that does not have a local CPS office. While this is not on the table at this time, the priority is to ensure the current CPS teams are adequately resourced. To this end, CPS has also just adopted a trial system to shift non-criminal calls from 911 to 211 so mental health trained professionals can better support the community. This should allow our police resources to be available when and where we need them, providing better coverage in Ward 12.
The Calgary Fire Department (CFD) has been subjected to years of cuts and was dangerously overextended. One of the most urgent constituent and public service pleas I received immediately after being elected was to help CFD return to minimum required funding. The rationale and explanations were clear that both our crews and our communities were at increasing risk due to their budget shortfall.
I was happy to approve re-investment in the safety of our communities by putting resources back into the CFD budget. Ward 12 currently includes McKenzie Towne Fire Station 30, Southeast Calgary Fire Station 39, and Seton Fire Station 41.
Note: you can currently pick up free sand-salt mix to help with icy sidewalks and roadways at Station 30 and 41.
The Green Line conversations are a hot topic in Ward 12. And related, one of the primary concerns I heard from citizens was about safety on our transit system, especially the LRT. The concerns dissuade Calgarians from using the system and supporting the essential service of transportation that the Green Line will bring. This is understandable. I have more thoughts on the Green Line below.
A modest investment was made in transit safety at our mid-cycle adjustments, by adding officers. This is not an ideal or desirable long-term solution. I will be supporting efforts to address how transit recovers from the impacts of the pandemic as well as instigating ideas to build new transit access points in Ward 12, when the Green Line develops, that are more modern and preventative in addressing safety concerns.
Priority: Economic Recovery
Under this priority, I outlined the need to focus on restoring our downtown, support economic diversification, attract investment, and nurture a business-friendly environment in Calgary.
This affects Ward 12 directly because our property tax system works in balance. When one segment suffers, the tax collection shifts to other segments. In the non-residential tax base, for example, our downtown core traditionally carried a lot of the property value and thus the tax burden with it. When property value is lost in our downtown core because of vacancies or businesses moving out of the area, that burden shifts to non-residential (commercial, industrial) properties outside the core, and that includes businesses in Ward 12 (which are growing incrementally with the growth of Seton in particular). A thriving downtown truly benefits us all.
Here’s what we have been supporting so far:
Early on, Council had the opportunity to further fund Calgary’s Greater Downton Plan to the tune of $50 million dollars. This project is of utmost importance to Calgary’s long-term financial stability, as explained above, and we have included a few images that illustrate why. Returning vibrancy to our beleaguered core will require commitment from The City, the private sector, and all Calgarians. This cannot be overlooked.
I have the privilege of sitting on and learning from the Business Advisory Committee (BAC). This committee exists, in part, to tackle the pain points businesses feel as they navigate Calgary’s regulatory environment. I was able to bring work forward last year to address issues surrounding the Waste and Recycling industry in Calgary, with some of this industry established in Ward 12. I am looking forward to supporting new initiatives through BAC this year that will further address red tape and hurdles experienced by local businesses. Feel free to reach out to my office with concerns or ideas regarding this initiative.
Councillor Sharp (Chair of BAC), who was the City of Calgary administrative contact last year, is currently leading the business community through identifying the priorities for 2022 and I have a front row seat as the feedback comes in from the business community.
Priority: Green Line
Under this priority, I outlined my support for the Green Line project and the desire of a majority of the Ward constituents to see it extend south to Seton. I also support an expansion out to North Calgary as connectivity is a primary benefit for the whole City.
Here’s what we have been doing to support the project so far:
Currently, my focus is on further establishing relationships with the Green Line team, as well as starting conversations with the Mayor’s Office and Council colleagues to keep a priority around how this project moves forward. It is going to remain critical to be a strong advocate for this project while also allowing for constructive feedback.
We are engaging with experts and people interested in this project from a variety of angles to ensure our advocacy is well rounded. However, I do not want to see delays or cost overruns from these delays as we have seen in the past. January 25th, Don Fairbairn, Green Line Board Chair and Darshpreet Bhatti, Green Line CEO, presented their quarterly update on the Green Line. If you have been following this project you will know there are considerable concerns about cost overruns. This is due, in large part, to the combined pressures of supply chain, inflation, and competing projects in other jurisdictions. The Green Line Board is confident The City has brought together the right team with the right skills and I encourage you to watch the question and answer period at committee if you are interested. The report and questions begin at (25:40) on the video that can be found at the link below.
It is extremely unfortunate that delays have forced this second attempt at procurement to start alongside external pressures. Council is very interested in the updated cost estimates that will come from the RFQ process, set to begin this quarter. I have heard many concerns about the technical difficulties of getting the Green Line through downtown and asked a question about that (1:08:00) in the video. I hope you find some reassurance from the answers given. When Green Line construction begins downtown it will have been preceded by thorough consideration surrounding the challenges this project faces.
Protect City Shaping
With the predicted cost overruns, it is going to be increasingly important to speak to, and actively protect, the city shaping implications of this project. The Transportation Oriented Development, along with the station plans and integration, are a huge aspect of making this project a safe long-term bet for Calgary. In particular, it increases the financial productivity of the area around the Green Line which will specifically enhance access to our deep southeast businesses and developments. The pressure to cut costs could remove the important city shaping elements and rob the project of some of its greatest future assets.
My commitment is to value long-term savings over short-term investments, even with rising short-term costs. We have seen time and again that delays tend to increase costs and reduce the scope of the project which is a losing formula for the future of Calgary. I look forward to advocating for the Green Line start while hearing options should project changes be necessary.
If you have any questions or comments about these initiatives or concerns about Ward 12, please click the Contact button up above and connect through the Ward 12 office.