These days it feels pretty good to be an Albertan. In Calgary we just reelected the ever cool Mayor Nenshi and Edmonton just elected a progressive mayor of their own in Don Iveson. As new details emerge of Rob Ford’s poor decisions we are given extra reasons to gloat.
When Quebec began discussing adopting the Charter of Values Nenshi invited any disaffected and discriminated against Quebecers to come join us. After all we elected a Muslim mayor and didn’t even notice until it was pointed out by the national media. We are an open and accepting city bursting with optimism. Some have issued similar calls to Torontonians wishing to get the mayor they need, not the mayor they voted for.
It’s easy to think that Calgary is a magical paradise and that everything is looking up but that post election glow is starting to wear off. Nenshi is only one vote on council and the balance is about the same as it ever was. We also elected a couple of developer candidates who intend to say no to just about everything, expect of course continued subsidies to developers and capital intensive road projects. We have an enormous infrastructure deficit including almost no cycling infrastructure, a low walkability score and laughable LRT network. We stand no closer to resolving these issues.
As the new budget approaches we hear talk of another six per cent budget increase. The big question is what are we getting from this? It’s not more protected cycling infrastructure or LRT expansion. It’s more of the same irresponsible budgeting and status quo thinking that supports sprawl instead of sustainability. Inner city communities pay for tax hikes while their libraries are closed. We talk about the $52 million endlessly but not enough about the $33 million annual subsidy to developers. The cost of development is paid for by the wrong people, and fiscal policy remains unimaginative and irresponsible. If we’re going to see another six per cent tax hike we should get a six per cent increase in LRT lines or a six per cent increase in cycling infrastructure.
There is a great deal of optimism in this city but real investments in transit and other forms of transportation seem a long way off. As much as we love Nenshi he has thus far not managed to approve secondary suites or the North-Central LRT. The city’s cycling strategy is a lot of talk and the occasionally paint slapped down on roadways. It is not a real change with budget behind it. For Torontonians accustomed to a stellar subway system and Montrealers used to bike lanes Calgary might prove a bit of an adjustment.
This city has enormous potential but we have some work to do. We get to be proud but we are not yet entitled to be smug. If Calgary wants to draw in the rest of Canada for anything more than jobs we need to give them more reasons to come.