Calgary is 'remarkably resilient': Naheed Nenshi reflects on 2016
Mayor’s year-end conversation looks back and ahead on big city issues
It's been another eventful year for Calgary city council.
Between the debate over the cycle track, the proposal for a new arena and the decision over running again — Mayor Naheed Nenshi has had his hands full.
Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray met up with the mayor in his office for a year-end interview.
The following is an edited version of their conversation:
Q: How would you describe the mood of the city this year?
Certainly, it's been a rough year. Too many of our neighbours are feeling the pain of unemployment or uncertainty. But I have to also say that this place is remarkably resilient.
A lot of people are using this as an opportunity to reinvent themselves, but also to help us reinvent the city. I continue to think that we are one of the most prosperous places on earth. We're one of the best educated places on earth.
We've got all the ingredients for longterm success here to get off this roller coaster and I think we'll be able to do it.
Q: What was your biggest success this year?
People love to talk about fractious council and how they don't get along. But for the last two years, we've actually passed my proposed budget unanimously, which is the first time that has been done in decades.
Q: What did you get wrong this year?
The biggest failure for me continues to be the failure that I've had over the last six years which is the inability to get eight members of council to move forward on the issue of secondary suites.
We waste extraordinary time, extraordinary resources — and I just hate, hate, hate when people come to public hearings and they have an awful story about how their mother had a heart attack and she needs a place to live and they have to come beg council for that opportunity.
The biggest failure for me ... the inability to get eight members of council to move forward on the issue of secondary suites.- Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi
I hate it when the neighbours come and say 'I don't like my neighbour and I'm using this as an opportunity to talk about what a bad neighbour they are and I don't like their music' — I can't stand it.
I think that we've had something like 35 attempts to solve this problem and all of them fail. I have not been able to find the compromise that will make people happy and that is very frustrating to me.
Q: Edmonton got its Ice Palace. Why isn't that happening here in Calgary?
Well it is very nice, that building in Edmonton — but I would suspect that most Calgarians would not agree with the amount of public money that went into it. Downtown Edmonton needed revitalization in a way that downtown Calgary does not. We heard earlier this year that the proposal in West Village will cost, the city estimates, somewhere between $1.6 and $1.8 billion. That's almost twice as much as the West LRT. Even Calgary Sports and Entertainment — the Flames and Stampeders — suggest our numbers are way off and it will only cost $1.1 to $1.3 billion.
There's no way ... if those are the real numbers ... that that can move forward. Calgarians will not stand for that. So the question now becomes: Is there something else that has less public money and more public benefit that could make sense for everyone and those are the conversations we continue to have.
Q: What roles can the city play during this economic downturn?
Number one? Not make it worse. Not add to the unemployment, not cut back on city services, not make it harder to take transit when you're looking for a job.
Secondly, we need to continue building. So as frustrating as it is to be stuck in construction, I hope people understand that this is a very deliberate thing we're doing — that we're building a lot of stuff that we need at times when interest rates are low and construction costs are low and people are unemployed.
And the third is to really to capitalize on a well-run city. We're able to put in a tax freeze next year not because we're pulling it out of the hat, but because six years of hard work have actually led to savings that we can now share.
Q: You've decided to run again. Why?
There's a lot of work left to be done. We've got to continue this work on city charters, which I hope will come to fruition next summer, then we've got to implement it. Of course, we have the largest public works project by far in Calgary's history in Green Line coming forward and it's important to get that started and make sure it's on a really good track.
But there is something else. In this world, it feels like there are more and more voices of intolerance, of small-mindedness, or racism, of xenophobia. It almost feels like the forces that want to pull us apart are prevailing over those that bring us together.
I think now more than ever we need voices to be able to speak out for pluralism and for what makes us strong as a community. This is not the time to abandon this post when those voices are sorely needed.
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener