Calgary

Nenshi calls on province to cut its own red tape and build Green Line

Mayor Naheed Nenshi is calling on the province to hurry up and get the Green Line built as the city struggles with unemployment in the midst of a painful recession. 

Says city needs the thousands of jobs, also calls for more federal help as city runs out of options

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the province should move quickly on the Green Line LRT project to help create jobs in the city. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Mayor Naheed Nenshi is calling on the province to hurry up and get the Green Line built as the city struggles with unemployment in the midst of a painful recession. 

"The government often criticizes red tape. Well, we need them to cut their red tape," said Nenshi during a virtual talk at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. 

He said the Green Line LRT is a massive project that will create thousands of jobs. 

"It is ready to go but for the fact the province has not yet finished their agreement on something they agreed to in 2016."

The province recently reaffirmed its commitment of $1.53 billion to the project, but it says a review turned up concerns that it wants addressed. 

In 2019, it also cut its payout to the city over the next four years by 86 per cent, saying the rest of the funds would flow in future years.

Tax reform

Neshi's Green Line comment wasn't the only barb he threw at the province during his chamber appearance.

He asked members to help him in appealing to Edmonton for changes to the way the city can collect revenue. 

Currently, the city can only raise money through property tax and user fees. 

"Property tax is the most regressive, most unfair form of taxation there is, and it's particularly unfair to business," he said, while noting the city is in financial trouble as that tax wealth shrinks. 

"I need the community behind me. And when the province talks about a fiscal reckoning, they talk about a fiscal reckoning even as they cut the police budget and even as they take more of the property taxes," said Nenshi.

"It's a fiscal reckoning of their own making."

Nenshi said the city and province can't "just sit on our hands and hope that tax cuts will bring job creation."

The mayor did say, however, that the city received its share of provincial infrastructure stimulus cash on Wednesday — $152.8 million —that will allow it to move forward on shovel-ready projects. 

Federal help needed

Nenshi said the federal government also has to do more for the city and that cookie-cutter solutions will not work in a place that is experiencing a contraction unlike any other city in Canada. 

Nenshi said now is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the federal government to help attract investment to the city and help diversify and transition the economy. 

"We need specialized and targeted assistance from the federal government. Here is a window of opportunity that is extraordinary," said Nenshi.

'Running out of tools'

That comes at a time when the city is "running out of tools" to deal with the economic fallout of an oil price crash and the pandemic that have left the city office towers hollowed out and revenue from them drying up. 

The city has cut tens of millions of dollars, but Nenshi said administration will be tasked with eliminating up to $100 million more in the coming November budget deliberations. 

It has also pulled from savings over the past few years in order to cushion the blow of rising taxes on the city's businesses. 

The city is not permitted to carry a deficit and will avoid that this year solely through a federal bailout program for municipalities. 

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