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City Council Is Out Of Touch
Saturday, 3 December 2016 - 11:30am
Earlier this year my wife and I were walking our dogs at Sue Higgins Dog Park in southeast Calgary when we noticed something quite surprising … but symbolic.
The City of Calgary had planted a several dozen new trees in the dog park and had undertaken all kinds of new landscaping changes. Prior to the changes, we had often remarked at how great the dog park was compared to others we had visited.
Under normal circumstances I don’t think I would have paid too much attention to the dog park’s upgrades. But given so many Calgary families and businesses were struggling, I wondered how Council could still be approving such “nice to have” spending decisions?
In the grand scheme of the city’s overall budget, the dog park upgrades are probably a drop in the bucket. But what they do represent is a council that is out of touch with the struggles of everyday Calgarians.
Since Calgary’s economy entered a recession, there have been thousands of layoffs and many Calgarians (well at least those working in the city’s business and non-profit sectors) have received pay reductions. The fact that food bank usage is up dramatically makes the situation even more depressing.
Similarly, businesses are hurting as well. Our news media is littered with tales of businesses shutting down or laying off employees. It seems everyone outside government seems to be watching their pennies closely, but City Hall hasn’t been pulling its weight.
Ask your councillor – why haven’t the mayor and council shown they understand our struggles by taking a pay reduction themselves?
Had council led by example, they would have the moral authority to pursue more significant savings – by asking the thousands of employees that work for the city to also take a pay reduction.
In the past, some council members have suggested that reducing the pay of unionized employees prior to their contracts expiring was some kind of impossible feat.
Forgive me for scoffing, but that’s utter nonsense. Many of us in the private sector also had “contracts,” but we agreed to pay reductions in order to avoid layoffs. In fact, it’s quite common outside of government for employers to reduce compensation levels across the board in order to keep everyone employed.
Why should the City of Calgary be any different? Ralph Klein convinced government employee unions in the 1990s to take pay reductions instead of layoffs. Does City Hall not have a history book or is council simply too lethargic and out of touch to see the need for city employees to do their part?
We have also seen the city recently discussing which colours to use for its new police cars. The mere fact we’re seeing the discussion play out publicly is a great example of a government that is tone deaf when it comes to the struggles of everyday Calgarians.
If a friend popped by your house to cry on your shoulder due to losing his or her job, would you listen for a while and then interrupt them to brag about the new curtains you planned on purchasing? In between their sobs would you ask your friend which curtain colour would look best?
Ultimately, city hall’s failure to reign in spending means that instead of reducing taxes this year, many businesses will see another tax increase. As for homeowners, we’ll be seeing another sleight of hand tax trick at city hall; a freeze this year, but an automatic increase for next year.
If council continues along its aloof trajectory, don’t be surprised to see a large number of council members voted out of office in next year’s election. If that happens, most of them will have earned it.
Colin Craig is the Director of Strategic Communications for the Manning Centre
This column was published by the Calgary Herald on December 3, 2016