A Platform outlines the main priorities and overall post-election strategy of a candidate. You can judge how I am likely to respond to an unknown future problem or issue because I will act in accordance with my priorities: Make Ward 3 Matter, Economic & Pandemic Recovery, and Build a Better City.
Issues are specific, current concerns that are top of mind for both the candidate and the electors during the current election. These can be short-term or long-term in nature but are always specific.
How I Approach Issues
I will generally approach any issue in a S.M.A.R.T. manner:
- Specific: What I will do, specifically. "I'm concerned about this" is not good enough. "I will do X" is.
- Measurable: Identify how success or failure is measured. Getting something 60% completed in year one is measurable. "I tried" is not. (Do. Or do not. There is no try. - Yoda)
- Achievable: Is the plan realistic? "I'm going to get rid of debt in 1 year" is not realistic, especially after a pandemic. But creating a 10-year plan for it might be.
- Relevant: Will the plan actually solve the problem? A lot of candidates say they will do X and imply it will fix almost everything. It won't, and I don't do that.
- Time Bound: "I'll fix it one day" isn't a plan, it's wishful thinking. People will be able to hold me accountable to milestones and deadlines.
People who have worked with me know I love researching the best way to do something and then creating a plan and a checklist, then getting it done. No one will have to tell me to do this in City Hall - I'll do it automatically.
I am the kind of guy who has a need to fix things that he knows are broken and that he knows he can fix. It is a core personality trait, and you can count on me doing it every time.
I have been turning around and advising companies and organizations since 1994, running my own company since 2001, and running a Community Association covering an area the size of Airdrie for the past 2 years. I know how to get feedback from stakeholders and the community, listen to expert advice, implement an effective strategy, and solve problems.
I am also very aware that although there is overlap, you can't run a government exactly the same way you run a home or business. Anyone who thinks they can run a city with a $4 Billion dollar budget the same way they run a small business has no idea what they are talking about.
For one thing, a business is designed to profit from its customers and compete against other businesses by keeping secrets. A city should not try to profit off its taxpayers or keep them in the dark. It is a very different mindset and is closer to running a non-profit than a business. I know, I have done both.
On the other hand, a city administration can learn from cost-cutting measures and efficient processes that the private sector has developed. I will use my business and turnaround knowledge to get these implemented. Although many governments are inefficient, they do not have to be. There is always room for improvement.
Public Transit and Green Line to Ward 3
The Green Line is Calgary's (and Alberta's) largest ever infrastructure project and is critical to Ward 3. Calgary city council approved it in 2020, but federal and provincial approval was delayed until July 7, 2021, putting the project a year behind and increasing overall costs due to the delay.
There is still no schedule for Phase 2 of the Greenline that extends to Ward 3, since the southern leg (Phase 1) will be completed first. We need to make sure that there will be no delay between work on the southern leg and work on the northern leg to Ward 3. Having construction stop in between will not only cause delays, but also increase overall costs and put up to 20,000 people out of work.
The Federal government has already suggested that funding will have to be reevaluated for Phase 2. We need to make sure we get that funding. Our express 301 route along Centre Street is one of the most "successful" (meaning it is really, really busy!) routes run by Calgary Transit. As our population grows and our children get older, the 301 will not be able to keep up with the demand.
As the chart shows, even though Ward 2 is almost 25% further away from city center, a Ward 3 University of Calgary (UofC) student will spend 3 hours a week (or 48 hours per semester) more in transit than a Ward 2 UofC student, and that does not include the time from their local bus stop to the station. Someone visiting a loved one in the nearest hospital will spend 2.5 more hours per week in transit.
This affects productivity, sleep cycles, and opportunity cost. In addition, studies have shown that a longer time to get to a hospital negatively affects outcomes. The Greenline extended to Ward 3 will help address this imbalance.
But the Greenline is not the whole story. We need an option in place to help alleviate the transit issues the Greenline is supposed to address, such as a dedicated BRT route that can be converted into the Greenline rail when contruction begins.
The transit times within Ward 3 (going east and west) are also a lot worse than they should be. Some of this is due to design issues (like fences and dead ends) that block people from accessing more efficient pickup points, and some is due to decisions that Calgary Transit has made and need to be reviewed. It takes 2 or more hours to get to many places from within Ward 3, making the transit system difficult to use. Further, the frequency of service is low in most parts of Ward 3, resulting in, for example, my daughter being 1/2 hour early to work vs 45 minutes late to work based on catching a single bus, which may drive past her in the winter because it's full. This is unacceptable.
Lots of people talk about making Calgary a business-friendly city, but unless your employees can get to work on time consistently our transit system cannot be considered "business-friendly" in Ward 3.
I will use my intergovernmental skills and commitment to Ward 3 to fight hard and make sure that 1) extending the Green Line to Ward 3 is kept front and center in all discussions, planning, and budgets; 2) East-west and other transit options (such as a BRT until the Greenline is extended) to and within Ward 3 fully serve the residents; and 3) all future development carefully considers transit as an essential part of the plan, not an afterthought.
Ward 3 Infrastructure and Amenities
In addition to the much-needed Green Line extended to North Central Calgary, Ward 3 needs many other long-overdue infrastructure projects and amenities. I will work hard to help find funding for these, and to help deal with the city (and other levels of government) bureaucracy in order to make them happen.
- Full funding for the Vivo expansion.
- More (and better) dog parks.
- More gathering and meeting places, particularly free or inexpensive ones.
- Sound dampening in areas such as basketball courts and along Stoney Trail.
- The long-awaited Medical Center. There is land set aside in Ward 3 in not one but TWO places for a medical center, the original planned one near Vivo and a newer location at Centre Street and 144th Avenue N.
- Support for community-led projects such as Creating Coventry, an NHCA facility, mural extension, etc. I like the P3 (Public-Private Partnership) nature of community-led projects because of their grassroots nature initiated by local residents, rather than the top-down approach the city and developers tend to take.
Ward 3 Traffic, Pedestrian Safety, and Accessibility
We Need Safer Streets
Just as downtown was designed as single purpose for head offices, Ward 3 was designed as single purpose for residential living.
This was a serious mistake since it placed access to amenities, greenspace, walkways, and pedestrian safety on the backburner in favor of creating an area characterized by dense housing, fenced off amenities, and a chronic lack of parking.
Your community should feel complete, not specialized.
As development and redevelopment occurs in the future, we need to make certain that the general inclination of city planners to densify areas does not get applied to Ward 3 without serious consideration of our current situation. If anything, we need less density, not more!
- The average number of people in each Ward 3 dwelling is much higher than the average for Calgary. 37% of Ward 3 homes have 4 or more people in them, compared to the 26% average for Calgary.
- Ward 3 was designed for vehicle commuters, not public transit commuters, yet parking space is a huge issue.
- Some roads are so wide that it takes 2 sets of lights to cross if you are older, yet others are so narrow that there is only a sidewalk on one side of the street.
- We have several roads where the speed limit goes from either 50>30>50km/h or 30>50>30 in quick succession, creating a serious issue with speeding.
- The developers created engineered pathways to try to help with mobility and are key to getting around, but no one seems responsible for clearing them of snow or other obstacles.
- There are very few crosswalks where the regional pathways cross the street.
- Many of the roads and streets require traffic calming measures for pedestrian safety, but in other areas the traffic calming measures are closer to traffic obstruction instead. There needs to be a plan for traffic in the area. We can't be reactive and wait until there are an overwhelming amount of 311 calls or someone gets hurt or dies. We can use the data from traffic incidents to proactively address dangerous intersections before a serious incident occurs.
- Future development and redevelopment should include the idea of Complete Streets - a transportation policy and design approach that requires streets to be planned, designed, operated and maintained to enable safe, convenient and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation.
- You should be able to get to basic amenities without needing a car. There are places where the residents have created holes in fences so that people don't have to walk a kilometer or more out of the way just to get to amenities that are actually only a short distance away on the other side of a fence. The city then spends money to "fix" the fence, causing the residents open them up again. This repeats over and over. It is a waste of time and money, and is a clear example of the city not paying attention to or caring about what the residents actually need. Calgary needs to take a long overdue hint and just build a safe, proper gate. Everyone will be happy and the city will save a lot of money. This is the type of bureaucratic nonsense I vow to change.
I care deeply about accessibility. My wife is a stroke survivor. I've volunteered for charities dedicated to the disabled. While being the President of the Northern Hills Community Association (NHCA), I created the position of Accessibility Director - the only such position in any community association in Calgary. The position is held by a long-time accessibility advocate, and planning with an eye to accessibility has become a standard part of how the NHCA now operates.
I don't just talk about accessibility; I do something about it! As Councillor, I will keep a focus on Ward 3 (and the whole City of Calgary) being safe and accessible to everyone.
Protection for Ward 3 Greenspaces, Wetlands, and Historical Features
We need an advocate for the protection of, and community consultation in, local natural and historical wonders like Nose Creek and West Nose Creek, the glacial erratic Split Rock, and much more. The Nose Creek area in particular has a rich history and diverse wildlife that many residents don't know about.
This may (and often will) require working with other levels of government in addition to the city, but I am committed to do the work on this.
Community Specific Issues
Dog Park Proposal
The City of Calgary has announced its intention to remove the ball diamond in the park located at the corner of Beddington Trail and Hidden Valley Link and turn this park into a dedicated Off-Leash Park. Detailed plans are here: Off-Leash Parks - Hidden Valley.
I always think that the residents should have a full and fair opportunity to discuss proposals like this to weigh their pros and cons. As Councillor, I would also be very interested in getting feedback from the Hidden Valley Community Association (HVAC).
With that said, I'm currently in favour of the decision, since the ball diamond has been shown to be under-utilized and the HID-002 area (currently an off-leash area that would be converted back to an on-leash area) is better suited for nature walks than a dog park. The proposal would also convert HID-002 back to a purpose for which it's best suited, increasing the safety of both pets and residents.
Coventry Hills Way Speed Limits
There is a spot on Coventry Hills Way where the speed limit signs are dangerous and do not make any sense. The speed limit in this area goes from a school zone (30 km/h) to a 50 km/h zone and back to a 30 km/h school zone all within about 100ft.
This makes no sense. It is difficult and useless to accelerate to 50 km/h then back to 30 km/h within 100 feet, plus there is an unfenced schoolground right beside that 50 km/h zone. In spite of that, there are drivers on this road that insist on speeding up during this 100 ft stretch, including one who aggressivly honked their horn at one of my children who didn't gun their engine to speed up as well. Worse, these drivers frequently do not slow all the way back to 30 km/h by the time they get to the second sign. Encouraging these types of bad drivers is dangerous and irresponsible.
I believe the entire area should be made into one school zone, lowering air pollution, saving money on signage, and potentially saving lives.
This situation is but one example of wasteful, nonsensical, and overly bureaucratic zoning process that needs an overhaul in Calgary.
Taxes and Fees
In 2020, council raised residential taxes by 7.5% in order to reduce taxes on business properties by 10%. Although I'm in favor of creating a business-friendly environment, residents should not be subsidizing businesses. The percentage of tax businesses used to pay was 62% (too high) but has now dropped to 48% (too low). I am open to arguments and new data, but I think a 50/50 split is more fair.
On the flip side, in 2021, large tax increases for some businesses are highly likely due to higher assessments. That is a huge burden and a roadblock to attracting companies to Calgary.
We need to create a tax system that's consistent, fair, and the minimum necessary. Changing the tax rates all the time makes it hard for both families and businesses to plan for the future.
Many Calgarians don't know that 40% of their property taxes are transferred to the Province, effectively creating a tax on your taxes. That also means that every time the City of Calgary needs to raise $10 in revenue, they have to tax Calgarians $16.70 and give the rest to the province, even if the province didn't ask for it, budget for it, or need it!
In addition to this, the Alberta government made itself exempt from municipal property taxes on its buildings within Calgary although these buildings still require municipal services like police, fire, and so forth.
The provincial government has a program called Grants in Place of Taxes (GiPOT), which is supposed to cover these costs. However, those grants were cut in the UCP budget in 2019 and have begun to take effect. Calgary stands to lose $2.5 million this year — and another $900,000 in 2022. It is not fair (nor is it a conservative value) to demand services but refuse to pay for them.
All this does is force Calgary to raise its taxes to cover the loss, so nothing changes for the tax payer. The only real effect is that the Alberta government gets to announce it is making cuts to its own budget, while making Calgarians pay the costs for these provincially-owned assets. That is not fair.
There is only one taxpayer - playing shell games with budgets to hide provincial costs in municipal budgets only hurts the taxpayer. It is time to stop playing games with our money.
We need to work with the Province of Alberta and other municipalities to create a fairer system. This alone could reduce your property taxes significantly, while saving tax costs overall due to the efficiency of centralizing provincial taxes with the province.
Jobs and Job Training
One of the best ways for a government to help create jobs is to create an environment that makes it easy for businesses to create jobs. That means getting rid of red tape and barriers to business.
We should encourage job creation with incentives for businesses to hire locally, not increase offshore profits. The business still comes out ahead, but the first option creates jobs and the second just siphons money out of the local economy. Incentives need to be smart and targeted.
We can support organizations that help job seekers, especially marginalized ones. For example, I had a great experience with CIWA (Calgary Immigrant Womens Association) where they provided extremely qualified job applicants and interns that were well prepared and ready for work. Another example was a Hire-A-Student program that achieved the double goal of supporting a non-profit and providing valuable work experience to young people.
I believe we can work together with other levels of government, post-secondary institutions, non-profits, professional and trade associations, and private business to create opportunities to train and employ a skilled workforce, providing them with good, sustainable, long-term jobs and careers.
The gross amount of debt you have is not as important as your debt servicing ratio - what percentage of your income is spent paying debt. That is money that could be used for other things, like services, debt reduction, or tax cuts. If you owe a billion dollars and your payments are less than 1% of your income, you are doing well. If those payments balloon to 50% of your income, you are in big trouble. That is debt servicing in a nutshell. If you have zero debt, you also have a zero debt servicing ratio.
Government debt service ratio is different from household or business debt service ratios. A household should not spend more than 36% of its gross income on debt servicing, and a business should not spend more than 32%. That is the maximum - the average debt servicing ratio in Canada for both is closer to 15%.
A government tax-supported debt servicing ratio should be lower than this because it is not trying to profit or put aside savings. At one point in 1985, Calgary had a debt service ratio of 22% - outrageously high. It has since dropped to 6.1%. Council now has a policy of keeping the tax-supported debt service ratio under 10%, but is free to borrow up to that. We currently owe a total of almost $3 billion in debt.
For context, the Canadian Federal Government has a debt service ratio of 7.3% and the Alberta Government is at 5.8%. Calgary can do better than them.
I will work towards the City of Calgary tax-supported debt servicing ratio to be less than 5%. Preferably zero (debt -free).
Diversify the Economy
In order to take a risk, there must be a reason. Every business owner and entrepreneur does a risk/reward analysis before changing direction or trying something new. Otherwise, you might as well stay with what has been working so far.
The city can't innovate for people, but we can create an environment where innovation is encouraged, where the risk/reward formula makes trying something new an attractive option.
We can invest and support in the infrastructure that innovators need. They need robust, high speed internet, reliable transit for their employees, innovative office options, and so on.
We can incentivize key growth sectors that Calgary can excel in. We can encourage non-traditional job creation, employees, work environments. Social enterprise is an area that fits well with recovery objectives.
Diversifying the economy does not mean abandoning people in traditional jobs though. For the most part, these jobs will serve new companies just as well as the established ones. Both a wind power company and a traditional petroleum company need accounting, IT, HR, legal, clerical, and maintenance employees, for example.
The goal of diversification is to add different types of jobs to the economy, not just replace the current ones. To change a one-course meal into a buffet. It is about growth, sustainability, and the ability to adapt to changes in a global economy we can't control.
P3 (Public-Private Partnerships) and Procurement
A P3 (Public-Private Partnership) approach to many of the issues facing government is a good idea. For example, instead of the government creating a division that builds things, it is often much more efficient to hire a company in the private sector to do the job. This can save a lot of money, and result in higher quality work. We should pursue P3 opportunities whenever it is reasonable to do so.
But there is a catch - in order for a P3 approach to work, the procurement and contracting process must be rock solid. Otherwise, you can end up with the poor quality a lowest bidder often provides, cost overruns, safety issues, and a higher risk threshold. Further, private companies often can not get financing on as good of terms as a government can, causing the overall cost to go up. Finally, using an outside firm can end up being more complicated and expensive than just doing it yourself. The companies build in a profit margin, after all.
When P3 works, it works very well. But it is critical that a world class procurement and contracting process is in place. The problem is that many of the City of Calgary's procurement processes went out of date in the 1970's.
Here are just a few issues with the City of Calgary Procurement Process:
- If a company has done a bad job or not completed contracts in the past, the city is not allowed to take that into consideration for the next contract.
- If a company has a better, faster, or cheaper method of doing something, the city is not allowed to consider innovative approaches.
- The city is not required to consider safety and training in the cost of a contract - the higher cost per hour counts against the company, even if it has measurable benifits over the course of the work.
It took until THIS YEAR (May 1, 2021) for the City of Calgary to introduce a new procurement policy, including implement training for employees that are involved in procurement. It is decades overdue, but it is a start.
I have been on both sides of government procurement and am both interested in and skilled at P3 approaches and optimizing procurement processes. I know when it is a good idea and when it will not work. I will use that experience to make sure Calgary is brought into the modern era as far as procurement is concerned, both by continuing recent changes and introducing new ones.
Regional Financing and Cost Sharing
Calgary is surrounded by municipalities - Balzac, Airdrie, and Chestermere to name a few. Right now, these towns take advantage of Calgary infrastructure, paid for by Calgary taxpayers.
For example, the 2019 shooting at Cross Iron Mills in Balzac was attended by Calgary police at a significant cost to Calgary. A cost Balzac will not pay.
In addition, there are clear cases where it would be mutually beneficial to work together with regional partners for certain projects.
I do not support revenue (tax) sharing between areas, especially if it is a grant from Calgary to another local government. I am also opposed to allowing other local governments access to Calgary taxpayers for services Calgarians do not use.
However, I am in favor of working together and sharing costs in a fair and equitable manner.
An example would be transit options between Airdrie and Calgary. I think there may be an opportunity for Airdrie and Calgary to work together on this type of project.
I am also in favor of reviewing services that we are providing to other municipalities to make sure that the arrangements are fair and equitable. Calgary should be a good neighbour, but not a cash cow.
Mental Health and Addiction
Mental health and addiction affects all of us. It affects the health system, the justice system, social services, education, and the workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the problems we already had even worse. We need to stop ignoring it and address it head on.
Healthcare is within the provincial jurisdiction and can't be directly administered by the City of Calgary. However, the City CAN provide funding and support to effective community-based groups that in turn serve the needs of those struggling with mental health or addiction problems.
This is an example of a P3 (Public-Private Partnership) approach where we work with organizations that already know what to do, rather than expand the size of the bureaucracy of the City of Calgary. I support helping these specialized groups do what they do best, to the benefit of everyone.
Poverty reduction is a serious issue requiring cooperation between governments and organizations. There are many reasons for finding oneself needing income support, including being disabled, unemployed, retired, and being a single parent of a small child without cost effective childcare as an option.
Some people may think it's a "downtown" problem, but here in Ward 3 we have many people who struggle. During my time as NHCA president I helped provide food hampers to the needy so I have direct knowledge of the situation in Ward 3. One huge issue for Ward 3 is the lack of walkable and public transit options to get food. Another issue here is that some people find themselves "house rich and income poor" because of recent unemployment. About 7% of the people living in Ward 3 are low income.
Some ways to address this within Ward 3 include supporting and empowering local organizations like Harvest Hills Cares and the NHCA, putting a physical office for social services in the ward near public transit, better accessibility for bicycles, better transit options within the ward - particularly to food sources, a 24-hour medical centre, and of course income supports such as a low income transit pass.
Ways to address poverty at the city level that I commit to addressing include:
- Increasing the amount of affordable housing in Calgary (we are 15,000 units short of the national average), and making sure that all of it is either accessible or accessible-ready.
- Support Calgary's Mental Health and Addication Strategy.
- Encourage a livable wage policy by committing to a livible wage for all city employees and making the payment of a livable wage one of the criteria for third parties getting contracts with the city.
- I want to see a properly run, scientifically valid pilot project on Basic Income to ascertain whether or not it's a valid approach. If the data shows it is, I would support basic income. I follow the data.
- Improving and suporting Calgary's emergency food assistance system.
- Supporting child care and early learning.
- Making sure that all decisions council makes are viewed thorugh interstional lenses that include race, social equity, gender, LGBTQ2S+, and disability.
- Addressing the issues with how people with very low incomes are able to use public transit, and how well public transit serves them.
Support for Youth
Calgary's youth need support in many areas depending on their age and circumstances:
- After school care.
- Employment and job training.
- High risk youth need to be identified and helped.
- Community integration for youth new to Canada and Calgary.
- Activity support such as art programs and active spaces (basketball court, skatepark, etc.)
- Mental health.
- Domestic abuse.
Our children are our future, and they need to flourish safely in our city. I am committed to helping provide the tools and support that youth need. As the saying goes, "It takes a village (or City!) to raise a child." Parents are expected to do a lot, but they can not always do it all.
Through Northern Hills Connect, I have helped young entrepreneurs start and run social enterprises. Through Night Market North, I have helped them socialize and engage. Through the NHCA, I have helped build basketball / hockey rinks, and provided arts and soccer programs. I have helped feed low-income families with kids, and have delivered the Holiday Gift of Joy to them.
As your next City Councillor, I will continue my commitment to youth both in Ward 3 and all of Calgary.
Support for Seniors
Many senior citizens in Calgary have always had a rough time, but these past few years have been particularly difficult. From pensions and other fixed income programs not keeping up with the cost of living, to unprecedented social isolation, many of our seniors are struggling. Worse, many are struggling in silence.
Some areas in particular that seniors need assistance include:
- Social isolation.
- Technology and computer training.
- Ways to make their income stretch further.
- Safe, accessible exercise and activity programs.
- Community integration for seniors that are new to Canada and Calgary.
- Domestic and elder abuse.
- Physical and mental health.
Through the NHCA, I helped make sure our Senior Persons Regaining Youth (SPRY) program was fully funded and supported; and enhanced that by expanding the Seniors Program even further. I helped deliver food to low-income seniors, began plans for a seniors computer course, and strongly made it clear to our elected officials that social isolation is a pressing concern. I always have promoted the wellbeing of the seniors in Ward 3 and all of Calgary, and I always will.
Immigrant and New Canadian Support
Calgary has always benefited from immigrants, who have brought with them vibrant and diverse perspectives, life experiences, and cultures. The hallmark of a truly great world class city is how many great dining, entertainment, and cultural experiences are available. Another hallmark is how well a city welcomes, integrates, and supports newcomers.
Immigrants to Calgary experience issues with:
- Social and cultural isolation.
- Language training.
- Job search and the recognition of foreign qualifications.
- Finding housing.
- Companies and individuals who take unfair advantage of them.
- Learning about programs and laws that can help them.
- Feeling welcome and safe.
My wife Leah immigrated to Canada when she was 12, and although youth often have an easier time adjusting than the elderly, things were not easy for her and her family. However, through hard work they built a life for themselves here and I am forever grateful that they did and I met her.
My undergraduate degree was a combined cultural anthropology and religious studies degree. I have been formally trained in working with and understanding different cultures and religions. After that, I started an international marketing company that focused on helping local companies understand and work with the cultures and languages of other countries. Working in a multicultural environment is second nature to me.
Through the NHCA, we ran the At Home in the Hills program that helped newcomers in many ways, including free tax clinics, translation services, and much more. I also worked closely with the North Calgary Cultural Association, cooperating on everything from gardening projects to working towards a new facility for them.
I know that Calgary is stronger thanks to our immigrants, and I believe that with the right support they can help make this city flourish as a world-class destination for tourists, new residents, and businesses.
I accept and support the findings of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as the City of Calgary’s Indigenous Policy and Indigenous Policy Framework.
I think that the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee (CAUAC) is a great start and would like it expanded.
There are over 500 places in Calgary devoted to culture and spirituality, and not one is specifically intended for Indigenous Peoples to gather. I support the call for an Indigenous Gathering Place in Calgary.
As an example of my commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, I was responsible for implementing the First Peoples & Traditional Territory Land Acknowledgment into the beginning of every NHCA meeting.
Transparency, Consultation, and Accountability
Calgary City Council is infamous for the time it spends in secret ("in-camera") meetings. Although there are sometimes good reasons for going in-camera (HR issues, privacy law, contract negotiations, etc.), City Council has been spending 15-25% of its meetings in-camera. Compare this to the 1-5% of other cities.
Nenshi said that the number of closed meetings council has held since he became mayor has increased “on purpose”, saying that he is providing more information, but other Councillors have stated that once the confidential part of the meeting is over, Council often stays in-camera without just cause or reason.
This needs to change. At the very least, the public should have a clear understanding of the purpose of the in-camera time, and all items that do not require an in-camera meeting should be held in public. It is not good enough to just finish the meeting in secret because they cannot be bothered to move. It is their job.
In addition, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) requests need to be handled better. There is a legal maxim that states "justice delayed is justice denied" and the concept applies to FOIP requests. A FOIP request that is not processed on time prevents the press and the public from learning what they need to know until it's often too late to do anything about it.
Examples of FOIP being abused is when Calgary City Council created the Olympic BidCo, which was technically a corporation (albeit controlled by the City of Calgary and paid for by Calgary taxpayers) that was immune to FOIP requests, unlike the city itself.
You may be thinking, "well, let's just pass a FOIP Bylaw with some teeth and fix this." But unfortunately, the situation is more complicated than that. The City of Calgary spent $320K on FOIP requests in the last half of 2020 alone, with the applicant fees paying for only a grand total of $2700 of that. This works out to a cost to taxpayers of about $2070 per FOIP request. In addition, a FOIP request creates a lot of overhead for an organization, and there are people who abusively file FOIP requests in the same way (and often for the same reason) that they file frivolous lawsuits.
For example, of the total of 155 FOIP requests in the last half of 2020, only 2 were from the media. 2 were from academics, 1 was from an official, 2 were from interest groups, and a whopping 90 were from businesses and members of the public. I think academia and the media should get fast access to FOIP information, but we need to look into protection from abusive requests. A bad actor could easily jam the queue with a bunch of expensive, frivolous FOIP requests in order to prevent or delay the media and the public from learning about what they are trying to hide!
We need a review of City of Calgary FOIP procedures with an eye to efficient media access and preventing frivolous requests. Obviously, we will want to make sure no one can hide information by just claiming it's frivolous - there needs to be objective rules. This will likely require intergovernmental cooperation with the Province of Alberta.
Last but certainly not least, the City of Calgary needs to do a better job of communicating with people. All too often, important information is missing, hidden from view, or communicated too late or without context.
City officials complain that citizens get angry at the last minute over information disclosed months ago, forgetting that until someone has received the information, it has not actually been communicated! It has just been broadcasted into the void. The City of Calgary needs to do a better job of actually informing the public, not just burying important information in the small print.
I have already proven my commitment to transparency. As NHCA President, I created a transparency initiative that resulted in:
- Public access to the Minutes for the first time.
- Minimization of in-camera meetings, along with specific rules about when to have them.
- Publication of the Objects and Bylaws.
- Public disclosure of the NHCAs Audited Financials for the first time.
- Creation of both data protection and privacy policies.
- Implementation of technology to make collecting and reporting information to the Board, Members, and public both fast and cost effective.
As your new Ward 3 Councillor, I commit to making the City of Calgary transparent, collaborative, and accountable.
Bad things happen. In the past few years Calgary has suffered a massive flood, an economic downturn, and a hailstorm that was the 4th costliest natural disaster in Canada. In addition, global events such as climate change, discrimination, oil prices, and of course the COVID-19 pandemic also affect Calgary and Calgarians.
Even if we magically fully recovered from all these right now, there will be other problems in the future - that's just how life is.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from something. Calgary needs to incorporate resilience planning into everything we do.
Calgary has four major areas in which we need to be resilient:
- Economy - we must get off the boom/bust cycle.
- Equity and Inclusion - when bad things happen, some groups are disproportionately affected.
- Natural Infrastructure - Climate change, flooding, biodiversity, water quality, and extreme weather all need to be planned for.
- Built Infrastructure - Will another flood destroy the Green Line where it crosses the Bow River? Can we clear the roads after an epic snowstorm?
Calgary only started planning with resilience in mind in 2019 - we are not even close to where we need to be right now.
As a former Cub Scout / Boy Scout I'm very much aware of the adage:
...and that is what we need to be: prepared. We need to be able to deal with anything that hits us and then recover quickly and efficiently from it.
As your next Ward 3 Councillor, I will work to make sure that the City not only recovers from our current situation better than ever, but remains prepared and resilient even during the good times, when it's easy to get complacent.
A Better Budget Process
We need to bring the Calgary budget process in line with best practices, not just make wish lists.
The City of Calgary has implemented a Zero-Based Review process which, instead of just taking last years budget and adding/removing money like Calgary does now, sets the department budget to zero, forcing it to justify every expense.
The current budget process for Calgary (Incremental Budgeting) often creates an end-of-year spending spree to the department can justify its budget. The ZBR has been shown to create significant savings - Calgary has identified millions of dollars in savings by doing these reviews.
The problem is that it takes a lot of time and resources to do these reviews, so they are not done very often, and there is no rule that says a department must follow the findings of the review (which would be Zero-Based Budgeting or ZBB, instead of just a Zero-Based Review). One problem with ZBB is that making every department do it every year would use a ton of resources and money. Money we are trying to save. That is why right now they are sticking to just a review.
But that's not enough. There is no reason for a review unless the findings are implemented. To be fair, so far most findings have been implemented, but there is no rule saying the have to. There must be an option between doing things the current way (easy but misses savings) and ZBB (difficult and expensive but good at finding cost savings).
There is another issue with ZBB - I have been in companies that have taken ZBB to an extreme and it resulted in things like spending an hour (at $30/hr) to fill out and submit a form just to get a new pen ($.50). As with all things, moderation and common sense need to prevail. Indeed, the budget should be focused on what matters - properly funding the priorities and defunding waste and scope creep.
Fortunately, there is another option: Priority Based Budgeting (PBB).
An alternative to ZBB, PBB is recognized by the Government Finance Officers Association as a public finance best practice. Calgary is not using it.
With Priority Based Budgeting (PBB):
- Budgets are not connected to prior year spending.
- Budgets are instead tied to specific focus areas and activities.
- Spending increases and/or decreases are not simply spread evenly across budgets - a major issue in government, where cuts often leave middle management alone and cripple front line workers instead.
- Funding is targeted to focus areas and activities that align with the strategic plan.
PBB, like all budgeting approaches, has pros and cons. The main disadvantage comes with employee buy-in. If there is a toxic culture in a department, PBB can make things worse unless handled well. Since many Calgary departments suffer from toxic cultures, we will need to address that first. Since we need to do that for organizational efficiency anyway, this accomplishes two goals at the same time.
Build a Modern, Efficient Administration
Modernizing the City of Calgary's administration is not an option - it's a necessity in order for Calgary to have the resilience and flexibility to deal with all the issues and pressures of the modern world.
As NHCA President I had to interact with the City of Calgary administration and bureaucracy frequently across many areas. I dealt with planning and development, parks, transportation, animal services, bylaw enforcement, and many more while advocating on behalf of residents in North Central Calgary.
During this, I was struck by how some departments and offices seemed to work smoothly while others were a dysfunctional mess.
We had employees and managers of departments flatly refuse to cooperate with other departments, to the point where they would not even transfer our call to them, much less work with them. We had people tell us something was impossible, only to be told shortly afterward that there was no problem. We had calls and emails go unanswered. We were repeatedly told to report things to the 311 line only to find out the message never got to the place it was supposed to go.
My personal observation was that while the frontline employees generally wanted to help, they were handcuffed by chronic understaffing and needless bureaucratic rules by middle management. I'll do a proper analysis, but experience tells me that the main issue is probably middle management.
I have turned around several organizations, and the keys to fixing this kind of institutional dysfunction include:
- Demand Management
- Consolidate and Effectively Centralize Support Services
- Smart Sourcing
- Lean Management and a Continuous Improvement Process
- Use and Enable IT
- Optimize Organizational Structure and Governance
- Develop and Align Capabilities
I have successfully done all of these steps in both a profit and non-profit environment and have been part of a team doing this at the Federal government level. I know what to do. Making the administration of the city work for the people of the city is possible and necessary.
Tourism and Brand Calgary
Vancouver, Las Vegas, Paris, and New York have their own identities, independent from the state, province, and even country they are in.
This allows them to control their own message, to set their own way forward, and to encourage people to visit or move there. Just like The Great One has an image that is independent from the LA Kings and The-Team-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, Calgary needs its own brand and control of its own destiny.
This means a vibrant arts and entertainment industry. Attractive tourist destinations. A welcoming and friendly culture.
It means a reputation as a good place to move your family or business to. A place where outstanding local talent is readily available, and where a company can see itself staying and growing.
Calgary should be a place that tops the lists of best places to live. Safe, diverse, innovative, and exciting. A place where you can smell opportunity in the air.
This isn't a pipedream. Calgary is already ranked in the Top 50 Best Cities in the World (we are number 47). The goal is achievable. The goal is worth it.
But we cannot do it by doing the same old thing the same old way. We need to focus on where we need to be, not where we used to be. We need to own our own brand.
I support the concept of an Airport-Downtown-Banff rail project. It's not unqualified support, as the devil is always in the details, but I believe that such a project would create a much-needed boost for both tourism and business in Calgary, particularly the downtown core. Potentially adding an estimated $1.2 billion into Calgary annually, it is the economic equivalent of an extra 3 Calgary Stampedes every year.
Creating a Business-Friendly City
Investment, businesses, and talent, like cats, can not be just told to go where you want them to. They do things for their own reasons and on their own schedule.
They will not come to Calgary because we need them to occupy our downtown offices, employ our people, and diversify our economy. They will only come because it is in their best interests to do so.
We need to entice (not wish for) investment, businesses, and talent to come to Calgary by offering them a reason to come.
This means a fair and consistent tax scheme, business support services, reasonable lease costs, and access to talented employees. Those employees in turn need high quality healthcare, reliable transit, affordable housing, and a city they feel safe and comfortable in.
Green City and the Environment
In addition to protecting Calgary's parks and greenspaces (which I strongly support), there are other ways for Calgary to be greener, including reducing it's greenhouse gases:
- Implementing the Green Line LRT, which is expected to cut 3,000 tonnes of CO2 from Calgary’s traffic emissions annually—the equivalent of taking more than 23,000 cars off the road each year.
- Continuing to use renewable electricity in all municipal facilities, while moving towards net-zero emissions.
- Encourage cycling and walking with a Complete Streets development strategy.
- Working towards an Electric Vehicle (EV) charging grid covering Calgary (preferably via a P3 initiative).
- Making it easier to get licenses for green buildings.
- Allow reasonable amounts of urban farming, as long as it doesn't create a health hazard or a nuisance for the neighbours.
- Exploring energy microgrids within the city, which has the added benifit of making our electrical grid more resilient.
- Moving Enmax, a wholly owned subsidiary of The City of Calgary, towards using 100% renewable electrical energy while making it's business units net-zero.
- Encouraging net-zero emission approaches for residents, businesses, and developers.
Arts and Culture
Supporting arts and culture in Calgary is important for both tourism and resident's quality of life. They are an essential part of a world-class city.
In addition to a robust but reasonable municipal investment in arts and culture, I support encouraging and incentivizing the private sector to support artistic endeavors in Calgary.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
Calgary EMS were consolidated by the provincial government this year. I think we need to measure the effectiveness of this and approach our provincial partners with hard data should it turn out, as many fear, to be a bad idea that endangers peoples lives. If it turns out to have been a good idea, we will have hard data on that, too. Either way, Calgarians need to know.
In addition to the urgent issues of mental health and addiction that I've placed in the Recovery section but that also belong here, I support Calgary returning to fluoridation of our water, with 2 caveats:
- I only support increasing fluoride levels to those that are proven safe. I do not support experiments with levels.
- Less than 8% of household water is ingested or used to cook with - the rest goes to showers, toilets, laundry, lawn care, etc. Currently general fluoridation is the most effective option, but if a more efficient and targeted option became available, I would support that.
The cost of fluoridation in Calgary would be reasonable; approximately 30M over 20 years, resulting in no increase to your water bill.
Unlike a previous city council that stopped fluoridation without public consultation after the people of Calgary voted to have it in a plebiscite, I will listen to what Calgarians want on this matter.
As a result, I would adhere to the wishes of Calgarians in a plebiscite.
Safety - Police and Fire
I support the Calgary Police Services. I also support the idea of not making the police do every single job - they should be well trained and able to focus on what they are trained for and good at.
We need to fund crisis services that can deal with issues that the police are not trained to deal with. This is also likely to save money or gain more bang for the buck due to the efficiency of experts sticking to the jobs they are good at.
The portion of funding for that part (and only that part) should go to the right people who are properly trained. Even with that in place, I think the police need better funding to do the duties they do have.
In short, they need both more time to do their actual jobs and the funding necessary to make that happen.
The fire department cuts have been too severe ($36M in cuts over the last 5 years, including the loss of 5 fire trucks) and I'll be fighting to get the funding back to where it needs to be.
Zoning and Bylaws
One of the main jobs of city council is to create and enforce Bylaws, yet I'm constantly amazed at how little thought is given to them sometimes. Did you know that it's illegal in Calgary to have a snowball fight within city limits without the express permission of the Mayor or City Council?
The legal maxim "Ignorantia juris non excusat" or "Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse" means that you are expected to be aware of and follow every single Bylaw the City of Calgary has passed, yet many of those Bylaws are either outdated, unenforceable, or in direct contradiction of each other. That is City Councils fault, not yours.
I have a background in law and believe we need to do a review of all the Bylaws in the Calgary. This will not only create a uniform, fair approach to bylaw enforcement for everyone, but will also help identify and get rid of a lot of unnecessary red-tape and other bureaucratic, outdated, time-wasting nonsense that we all must deal with.
Getting consistent, fair, updated policies and procedures in place is a topic near and dear to my heart, as nerdy as it may sound.
One of the first things I did as President of the NHCA was to do a review and begin cataloguing all of it's policies and procedures. I found that many were completely out of date or missing, and the Objects and Bylaws were in such a bad state I rewrote them from scratch (then sent them to both a committee and the membership for approval). The NHCA now has new, modern Objects & Bylaws, a proper policy manual, updated procedures and is functioning much better as a result.
Ward 3 Resident Suggestions of Some Possible Smart Zoning Bylaws / Policy Improvements
- Although the "Guide for Great Communities" is now called the "Guide for Local Area Planning" and is no longer statutory, more clarity and guidance is needed.
- Explore eliminating mandatory front setbacks - more backyard is good.
- Garbage Pickup times - some people need more pickups, others need less. One size fits all isn't working. Explore options to make this work better.
- Re-evaluate the maximum size of secondary suites. The maximum size should be based on the location, not completely arbitrary numbers.
- All future residential streets should be complete and have sidewalks.
- We need to make smarter parking rules.
- Explore whether houses with secondary suites need to be owner-occupied or deemed commercial residence buildings.
- Do we really need a Bylaw preventing you from parking your own trailer or boat in your own driveway? Maybe, maybe not. Let's look into it.
If elected, I will take a lead on a Bylaw review focused on getting rid of red tape and unfair Bylaws and Policies, and making our Bylaws and Policies smart, effective, modern, and efficient.
Universal Basic Income
I normally don't comment on things that are not municipal issues for the same reason I'm not interested in my dentists opinion of my appendix. But Universal Basic Income (UBI) keeps coming up this election so I figured I'd save myself some typing and put my thoughts here.
The idea behind UBI is simple: take all the current welfare state payouts we are currently making (unemployment, AISH, pensions, income assistance, etc) and replace it with a single basic income amount that every single Canadian would get equally - enough to live on, but not so much that people wouldn't choose not to work.
Proponents argue that it's fairer, more efficient, gets rid of a lot of bureaucracy, and helps prevent the other costs that being impoverished creates - healthcare costs, crime and policing, social services, etc.
Opponents are concerned that it will cost too much and encourage people not to work, thus ruining the economy at a time we should be trying to recover.
This has become an election issue due to 2 things: 1) Lobbying by social advocates at every level of government including this municipal election, and 2) On February 22, 2021 Bill C-273, a bill towards a national Guaranteed Basic Income was introduced. The bill entered Second Reading on June 14, 2021. So this is a conversation we are going to have as a country regardless of where we sit on the topic.
To do your own research, this is a Canadian UBI site: https://www.ubiworks.ca/
... and this is a link to a scientific study done in Canada in the late 1970's: https://www.utpjournals.press/doi/full/10.3138/cpp.37.3.283
I've said several times that "we need to help and support people, but we need to be able to afford to help and support people." We can't do one without the other.
I don't think we should implement something with such a huge effect on our economy (and taxes) without full and proper testing. There are credible arguments on both sides of the issue that need to be addressed. Canada's recent CERB payments were an example of a UBI-like initiative, and it had mixed results. We can learn from it.
There is enough evidence for UBI (both the federal Liberal and NDP parties have come out in favour of it) that I'm in favour of doing a modern, scientist (NOT politician) designed test of UBI with all three levels of government (Federal, Provincial, and Municipal) that would determine whether it's a good idea or not, and also what parts need to be modified if it is brought in. I would then support doing what the results of the test say - either yes, it's a great idea or no, it's a terrible idea. I'll always follow the data.
The Ontario government attempted to run such an experiment in 2018, but it was cancelled in 2019 due to political reasons (new government), ruining the experiment ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontario_Basic_Income_Pilot_Project ). In my opinion, that political interference in the scientific process cost taxpayers money (because the test will need to be run again) and just raised calls to go straight to UBI without testing, which I don't support but is now a real possibility.
Bottom line, I will in favor of UBI if a properly designed experiment says it's a good idea, and against it if it doesn't. This position is based on the science, not ideology or party politics.