Municipal Election

Naheed Nenshi surprised by Manning Foundation findings

Naheed Nenshi, who is seeking his second term as Calgary's mayor, gave his reaction this morning on the Calgary Eyeopener to the Manning Foundation's report on managing the costs of growth.

Incumbent says think-tank recommends Calgary gets rid of 'sprawl subsidy,' which is in his election platform

Naheed Nenshi says if he is re-elected in Calgary's municipal election Oct. 21 he will push to remove what he calls the "sprawl subsidy." (CBC)

Naheed Nenshi, who is seeking his second term as Calgary's mayor, reacted to the Manning Foundation's report on managing the costs of growth on the Calgary Eyeopener this morning.

"I was expecting this shoe to drop at some point but I was frankly expecting that shoe to drop after the election," says Nenshi.

The relationship between the development industry and city council has been in the spotlight during this election campaign after a controversial video was leaked in April where Cal Wenzel, founder of Shane Homes, outlined a plan to defeat members of council who he sees as anti-development.

We had a scene right out of the movie Godfather . We had a guy admitting he broke the law in 2010 in favour of one candidate.- Naheed Nenshi

It was also reported that the group of home builders planned to donate more than $1 million to help more developer-friendly candidates win. Roughly half of the money went to the Manning Centre, a non-profit corporation that focuses on conservative-oriented activities, and the other half went to the Manning Foundation, a research centre that is a registered charity. 

"When we saw that video in the spring, when the home builders talked about their slate and how they sent $1.1 million to get Preston Manning on board to get their slate elected to oppose my agenda, the thing that I was always surprised by is that their agenda is a continuation of corporate welfare and a continuation of the sprawl subsidy," he said.

"So yesterday when they said, 'No, get rid of the subsidy. These home builders should be paying the full freight of their infrastructure.' Well, they're right. I expect they got some angry phone calls from their donors.

"On the philosophy that we ought to really create a free market in housing and we ought to stop putting our thumb on the scale and favouring one form of housing over another, we seem to agree on this matter."

Differential taxes

On most of the other recommendations though, he is less than convinced.

"They go on to talk about differential taxes in new neighbourhoods. I happen to think that's a bit of a smoke screen. The development industry has asked for that for some time so that they can artificially lower the price of the home up front and people will pay for all infrastructure in their taxes over a some years and I don't think that's quite right."

"I prefer a free market where we have full cost pricing up front. The net impact on the homeowner is the same ... but I think that it's worthwhile to for the homeowner to see the full cost when they're making the decision to buy the house or not," says Nenshi.

The report also recommends reducing the use of planning policy to regulate density, but Nenshi is not a fan.

"Yeah, that's just dumb," he said.

"They suggest that financial incentives will be enough to actually move the market but what we've learned is the one area in which the free market doesn't work in housing is in the area of overall neighbourhood planning."

Nenshi says it's the city's responsibility to deal with major planning.

"That's where you need regulation to look at basically densities, amount of recreational space, things like that. That's why we do master planning at the city level."

Zone-based transit

There was also a suggestion for zone-based fares on Calgary Transit, but Nenshi says we lack the infrastructure.

"We don't have turnstiles, we have an honour system on the C-Train. Zone-based fares really only work where you have to tap your (smart) card one the way in and on the way out."

Nenshi warns it can be an experiment in human behaviour as well.

"If you have much higher fares for precisely the people whose vehicles are clogging the roads, who have very long commutes, then it may well lead to more people driving." 

A National Post article even suggests that Nenshi himself is behind the dispute with home builders as a means of creating a false opposition for himself, but he says that's not the case. 

"Let's not be ridiculous here. This is one thing that I don't understand, which is why everyone is being so polite. We had a scene right out of the movie Godfather. We had a guy admitting he broke the law in 2010 in favour of one candidate, Ward 7's Kevin Taylor [is] running again.... I think we realized the law cannot actually be enforced."

"We had a guy telling people in a room how to break the law ... and going through every single race saying this is the councillor that opposes Nenshi."


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