Calgary slashes emergency services, transit, affordable housing in $60M budget cuts

Emergency services, CTrain and bus frequency and affordable housing were among the services slashed as city council unveiled details of how its $60 million in cuts to operational budgets will impact Calgarians late Tuesday night.

115 city employees will lose their jobs

Calgary council voted to approve dramatic service cuts late Tuesday night as part of $60 million in cuts to the city's operational budget. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

Emergency services, transit service and affordable housing were among the services slashed as city council unveiled details of how its $60 million in budget cuts will affect Calgarians.

Council voted 13-1 in favour of the package of cuts shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Earlier this year, council approved a 10 per cent tax rollback for business property owners. Since then, the city has been searching for ways to pay for it.

Nearly every city department and service — a total of 48 departments from arts to waste and recycling — will feel the crunch.

"People will see a real impact because we have to absorb this in only one quarter of the year," said Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Here are some of the biggest impacts:

  • 223 city positions (which include vacant jobs and retirements) will be cut.
  • 115 city employees will lose their jobs.
  • 80,000 fewer Calgary Transit service hours, which means reduced frequency of buses and CTrains.
  • Lower disaster preparedness at the emergency management agency.
  • 52 fewer affordable homes (13 per cent of the housing incentive program) will be funded.
  • Zero community recreation programming at some locations.
  • Four fewer medical response units and one rescue unit on the fire department's frontlines, which means reduced service for critical medical interventions and emergency responses citywide, and increased response times.

"This is a tough budget across the board," said Coun. Evan Woolley.

The exact details of where the job cuts would land were not provided, just that they would be proportionate to the service reductions.

Council reversed an earlier decision on Tuesday afternoon and allowed the public to speak and share their concerns about the cuts.

Members of the public stepped up to urge council to reconsider service cuts that would affect low-income Calgarians, among others.

'It feels cruel,' dissenting councillor says 

Coun. Druh Farrell, the lone vote against the cuts, said the timing of discussing laying off dozens of people and cuts to vital services felt heartless, likely alluding to the city's announcement it was prepared to go in on a $550-million arena with the Calgary Flames the day before.

"I won't be supporting these cuts considering the discussion we had yesterday … it feels cruel," said Farrell. "115 good people are going to lose their jobs."

There will be impacts to accessible transit, slower response times to street light outages and cuts to New Year's Eve celebrations. Budget belt-tightening will also affect planned activities to engage with multicultural groups, the city's Indigenous relations office and the Council Strategic Initiative Fund.

"I think there are more cuts coming. Structurally, we're not there yet," Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart said. "We haven't seen the end of this yet."

Coun. Jeromy Farkas brought forward a motion — which failed — calling for administration to try and find cuts elsewhere to limit the cuts to the fire budget, something that prompted a reprimand from the mayor.

"So, council, you made your bed. You called for the $60 million in reductions, you were told over and over again there was no time to be thoughtful about it … this is what you got back," said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. "There is no way I'm sending administration back. You made your bed, lie in it."

(Sarah Rieger/CBC)

Calgary police said the force can absorb its $7 million budget cut without hurting front-line service.

It's reducing training, some technology and trimming the fleet size by 10 per cent. 

"That $7 million will not have a direct impact to the citizens of Calgary. They won't see that. Analytically, or an intelligence-led model may be impacted, and we'll do our best to overcome some of those technological shortcomings," deputy chief Paul Cook told council.

However, the police commission said should there be provincial budget cuts this fall, police will be returning to council to request more money.

City administration will hold a media availability on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. on the issue, after unions and affected staff are contacted.


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that council cuts would affect funding for the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers. It's actually the Council Strategic Initiative Fund, which shares the same abbreviation, CSIF.
    Jul 24, 2019 1:23 PM MT

With files from Scott Dippel


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