Group that wants pause on Green Line hosted private event with top city officials
Invite-only event at Calgary's Petroleum Club included a call for donations
A select group gathered last week at the exclusive Petroleum Club in downtown Calgary for an invite-only presentation from top city officials on the Green Line LRT, a meeting which sources say concluded with a fundraising request to help push a particular vision for the project.
The Feb. 13 meeting was organized by an ad hoc group that includes Calgary businessman Jim Gray, lawyer Brian Felesky, former Stantec vice-president Barry Lester and Steve Allan, the former head of Calgary Economic Development who now heads the UCP government's inquiry into the funding of environmental organizations.
All four appeared in council last year to question the viability of the current vision for the train line and called for a pause on the project. All have ties to the UCP, which delayed full funding of the project in its last budget.
The Petroleum Club
In attendance at the Petroleum Club that day were city manager David Duckworth, general manager of the Green Line project Michael Thompson, former city solicitor Glenda Cole, two councillors and a member of Mayor Naheed Nenshi's staff.
The city did not make Thompson or Duckworth available for an interview, but did say in a statement that Thompson has been making presentations to various groups over the past few months.
The city did not respond to a request for clarification on whether those meetings have included the other top city officials.
"Being available to share project information with stakeholders is an important part of my role as Green Line's project sponsor," Thompson said in an statement emailed by the city.
"Engaging with stakeholders and Calgarians requires time and resources, and the Green Line team believes this is a good investment in order to deliver a project that will best serve Calgarians."
The city is undergoing a new round of engagement after it rejected a proposed tunnel through the downtown core and tweaked the alignment.
'Confused about their motivation'
Coun. Druh Farrell, whose ward includes the Petroleum Club and some of the most contentious segments of the Green Line route, was not invited to attend the gathering. She questions the motivation behind the meeting.
"I'm also concerned about just the level of access that they have had to senior staff and the council," she said of the ad hoc group.
"They've been invited to present to city council when we haven't broadened that invitation to directly impacted individuals — both the transit users and the communities that are adjacent to the Green Line. We haven't given them as as much access to council and that should concern everyone."
Farrell says she's not clear on why the group has such a strong interest in the Green Line project and wonders why they are operating outside of the city consultation process.
"I'm confused about their motivation. I'm not sure who they're representing, and that's something that maybe we'll never really find out."
Another councillor not on the invite list was Evan Woolley from Ward 8. He also questions why top city officials made a private presentation to the group and says "an inordinate amount of time" has been spent engaging with them.
Gray said there is nothing nefarious behind the group or their motivations. He says they are simply a group of citizens who have concerns over such a massive infrastructure project.
"We're not, and let me emphasize this, we're not opposed to the Green Line. We may have some suggestions with respect to the strategy of implementing the plan, but we are not opposed to public transportation or the Green Line," he said.
Gray rejected the idea that stalling the project could kill its momentum or put the future of the Green Line at risk. He said they want a third party to thoroughly review the work of the city.
Farrell says two sources at the meeting told her that at some point during the event, the group asked attendees to contribute $1,000 each in order to help continue working to stall or change the Green Line project.
No one in the room would go on the record, but CBC News confirmed that account with one other attendee.
Gray said any funds would be used on a broader campaign.
"If we decide to proceed, we may decide that we'd like to communicate more broadly, and if we communicate more broadly, you can't do that on ether," he said. "You've got to have a few bucks, and so we may do that."
2 councillors in attendance
Jeff Davison, the councillor for Ward 6, was invited to the Petroleum Club presentation along with Ward 1 Coun. Ward Sutherland.
He says the meeting was part of the broader engagement process and he couldn't comment on whether similar access to top city administrators has been provided to other stakeholders.
"I mean, it's not that it's common or not normal," he said.
"I think it's more about, you know, you have an active group of citizens who had some concerns and made a formal request to have somebody come and do a presentation to their group. So, I think from time to time administration is going to get requests like that and we try to accommodate that where we can."
Davison says it's important to engage with a variety of stakeholders, whether they're concerned about the costs of the project or the alignment and usefulness of the train line.
He also says he left the meeting with city staff and is unaware of any fundraising requests.
Nenshi's office sent an emailed statement that said a member of his staff attended and that no new information was presented.