Bill Smith accuses Nenshi of playing 'bullying game' regarding campaign donors

Mayoral candidate Bill Smith says his opponent Naheed Nenshi is playing "bullying game" in response to criticisms that he has yet to release his list of campaign donors. He also spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener recently about transit, cutting spending at city hall and his motivation to run.

Mayoral candidate says he still intends to release donor list

Mayoral candidate Bill Smith promises to cut spending at city hall and rethink transit projects like the Green Line or Southwest BRT. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Mayoral candidate Bill Smith accused his opponent Naheed Nenshi of playing a "bullying game" in response to criticisms that he has yet to release his list of campaign donors. 

Smith also spoke with David Gray of the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday about his thoughts on transit, cutting spending at city hall, and his motivation to run.

​The third of our feature interviews with candidates running for mayor in the civic election. David Gray ​talks to Bill Smith about his campaign. 14:31

This interview has been condensed for length and clarity. 

Q: Let's talk about the Green Line. You've said that you would revisit the proposal for the route, which would tunnel underground downtown, head east to Inglewood, then head south. Why do you want to take a second look at it?

Bill Smith: I'm very concerned that we had a 46-kilometre line for $4.5 billion and now we're only getting a 20-kilometre line for $4.6 billion. That's the first thing I want to look at, to say, 'How did this happen? How did we get that far out of whack on this? Is that going to be a problem going forward?' I mean, those are big, big numbers.

The second thing is, what's the purpose of this line? The purpose is to move Calgarians. That's fundamentally what we're trying to do here.... I don't see that we're capturing great opportunities to move Calgarians.

Let's really look at what our priorities are here and maybe we want to think about do we try to change something so we go as far south as the hospital? Do we have enough money to do that, or do we go north? But doing the middle, to me, doesn't seem to achieve the fundamental goal.

Q: You do realize this is at least five years in the making? There has been countless citizen input panels, lots of work put to this point. We've got funding already promised at several different levels of government, now we've got Brian Mason — the provincial transportation minister — saying, 'Wait a minute, you start changing the plan, we're not sure if we're going to give that one a half-a-billion dollars in funding.'

There are those that have been up on this issue a long time saying, 'You're kind of getting up on this issue a little bit late.'

Yeah, but sometimes when you just look at something from the outside you go, 'Does this make sense?'

When you're wrapped up in the middle of it, it makes sense to you, but what's the primary goal of a public transportation system? To move Calgarians.

Q: Let's talk taxes, if we can. You say your own non-residential property taxes went up what — 70 per cent in the past few years?

Business taxes, yes.

Q: That story, it's shared by a lot of other businesses in Calgary. How do you plan to bring that number down?

My fear is that bringing it down is going to be a long, slow process. One of the things that we have to be careful of is we're not making a promise to bring taxes down right away, and we're not making a promise to cut taxes. We want to maintain where we're at right now and stop overburdening.

The corollary to that is that we have to look into the city and what we're spending our money on and find places where we can say, 'Alright, well we don't need to spend on this, we don't need to spend on that.'

Q: As you well know those taxes went up for a reason. There are a lot fewer businesses operating in the downtown than there were four years ago. How do you plan to kickstart business in Calgary?

Two things. Firstly is to give businesses an understanding that they will have a stable tax environment. That's the first piece, that they're not going to open today and get a 50 per cent increase tomorrow.

The second thing is we've got to help them with the regulatory process. I talked to a gentleman the other day, he's trying to open a warehouse near the soccer centre.… He's running a senior's soccer program. He said he's eight months into the process to get permits to do this and he still doesn't see the light of day that he's going to be able to do it.

So he's currently paying rent on the space and losing money so, to me, that's the regulatory process which is hurting that. We've got to give him tax stability, we have to help with the regulatory process, we have to use some common sense in some of these things.

Then I think we can turn our mind to saying, 'What are the levers we can push as a city? Where can we help encourage businesses organically to grow here? Where can we give them the opportunity and support? How do we attract businesses from outside the country?'

Q: Which programs would you cut specifically in order to make sense of City Hall?

The first one I'd look at would be our fleet services.

Currently we pay 67 per cent more per capita than Toronto, and 63 per cent more per capita than Ottawa on our fleet services. Why? That doesn't make any sense to me at all. We've got to be able to drive some savings there.

On our administration costs, we pay double what they pay per capita in Toronto and Ottawa. Savings of tens-of-millions of dollars are available there.

Our human resources costs are more than double just about every major centre in Canada. Why are we spending more than every major city in Canada?

I'd also like to be able to offer up early retirement packages.… I think there's a lot of folks that are there right now that are probably ready to move on. We can probably pare back a lot of our staffing costs that way without affecting front-line services.

Q: One thing we hear from one of your opponents, Naheed Nenshi, is that you have an issue around transparency. So I want to put it on the table. He came out very quickly and said here are my political donors, here's the list of people who are giving money to my campaign. It seemed to be a fairly easy thing to match. Why haven't you done the same?

Mr. Nenshi has an issue with greater transparency. He's had 25 per cent of his council meetings in camera, so in private, 748 meetings over the last few years.

I'm not sure he really stands on any solid ground to tell somebody they're not transparent. And by the way, we're following the rules.

Mr. Nenshi has played this spin campaign with the last two elections, 'Oh, I'm going to throw out my donors, I'm a wonderful guy.' He's had lots of opportunity to get and lobby the government to change the election rules but he hasn't, because he likes to play this little — I'll call it a little bit of a bullying game — where he tries to push you into doing it and offers this spin up that, 'I'm a much better person because I've done this … this person must be bad. Please, whatever you do, don't look at my performance as a mayor, look at how bad this other person is.'

Q: Respectfully, you deflected my question but you didn't really answer it. Is there an issue around political donors? What your opponents are painting a picture of is here's a guy who used to be president of the PC party here in Alberta. It's the same old PC machine that's coming in, the same old PC money, a lot of cash from developers, and you're trying to hide that by not releasing your list. That's the allegation.

People can allege what they want. I will release my donors list, it is part of the rules, and everybody will have an opportunity to see it.

Q: Does this need to be a more developer-friendly city? Has the tone changed over the last seven years?

I think it needs to be a more business-friendly city. I think we can be the most business-friendly city in Canada and I think we need to strive to do that.

It goes back to the taxation and regulation firstly, and then the ability to promote our industries and give them the resources and the comfort that they can do business here.

Q: Before we finish, I want to ask you a question I've asked of anyone else who's running for mayor who's come into this studio. Why do you want this job?

Well, it's about service for me. When I grew up, my mother was always doing things for people. It was always help somebody out. In fact, when she passed away — unfortunately she was killed as a pedestrian one evening back in January of 2005 — she was out helping a lady from her church.

At her funeral, there were over 500 people there than said, 'Your mom did this for me, she just did that, she drove so-and-so, she brought cake and pie.' The way she treated people has been ingrained in me since I was a child.

It's more important to provide service to your community and to me, this job as mayor, it's really a service job. It's sort of the number one service job in the city.

And I'm just arrogant enough to think I could do a better job than the guy who's there.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener