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Action Plan Background

Trends & issues affecting Calgary

Trends affecting Calgary

At the start of the business planning and budgeting process, Administration completed an environmental scan and analysis of key trends which informed the creation of The City of Calgary’s Action Plan. The major trends and issues that affect service delivery across the organization are identified and discussed below.


Of the six largest cities in Canada, Calgary has:

  • the most productive and best-paid workforce;
  • the greatest purchasing power;
  • a lower cost of living than Toronto or Vancouver;
  • one of the lowest unemployment rates, and
  • the second highest total growth in retail sales over the past 10 years.

The pace of economic activity in Calgary will remain strong in 2014 and 2015, in reaction to faster economic growth among trading partners. This is expected to increase market opportunities for Canadian businesses. Canada’s real gross domestic product (GDP) growth is expected to average 3.1 per cent in 2015 based on increased demand for Canadian exports such as oil and forest products which will keep demand and prices high. From 2016-2018, growth is expected to moderate somewhat, constrained by a slower-growing labour force.

Inflation is forecast to average 2.9 per cent in 2014, and is expected to moderate to 2.1 per cent in 2018. Strong population growth, driven by above average net migration levels, is expected between 2015 and 2018, as individuals move to Calgary in response to relatively lower unemployment rates, which are expected to average 4.8 per cent between 2015 and 2018.

The Action Plan was developed on a population growth forecast of 100,000 over the next four years (an average of 25,000 people per year), with population projected to reach 1.274 million by 2018. Administration will monitor growth closely, and if necessary, will bring forward business plan and budget adjustments for Council's consideration.

By 2018, a shift in age distributions is anticipated in response to the combination of aging population, net migration and natural increase. The largest population increases will be experienced by the 60 to 64 age group, as well as the 35 to 39 age group which is resulting from net migration.

Calgary population change 2013 to 2018

Among Canadian cities, Calgary has the highest immigrant population after Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. It is reported that approximately one in four Calgarians is an immigrant, with the main source countries being from the Asia Pacific region. Calgary’s total immigrant population (both permanent and non-permanent residents) is projected to reach almost half a million by 2020.

Approximately 11 per cent of Calgarians are living on low income and are vulnerable because they spend a larger share of income on basic needs, which often results in income deficits and increased debt. Approximately 28 per cent of Calgarians rent their homes, among which 39 per cent are overspending, meaning they contribute more than 30 per cent of their total household income towards shelter costs. Some groups are more likely to be affected by low income including recent immigrants, Aboriginal people, persons with disabilities, senior women, and children. Evidence suggests that social problems are associated with income disparity, which is increasing in Calgary. Government services need to adapt and reflect the needs of the demographics, and ensure affordability and accessibility for all.

Between 2006 and 2012, 96 per cent of Calgary's population growth occurred in new suburbs. This trend appears to be shifting: over the past five years, the average annual population growth to new suburbs fell to 75 percent. In 2014, 58 per cent of citywide population growth occurred in established areas.

Assessments indicate that the automobile is still the most common travel choice, making up 79 per cent of all trips. This leads to more traffic on roadways resulting in congestion, greater greenhouse gas emissions and reduced air quality. The exception to this trend is downtown where the city is experiencing a higher proportion of walking, cycling and transit usage (Centre City 63 per cent, Activity Centre and Corridors 32 per cent) compared to 17 per cent in Planned and Future Greenfield areas.

The city’s growth is beginning to move towards the goals and objectives of the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and the Calgary Transportation Plan (CTP). Indicators show that Calgary is designing better communities, however strategic areas (Centre City, Activity Centres and Corridors) are not growing as quickly as the city as a whole.

The “MDP/CTP 2013 Monitoring Progress Report,” published in December 2013, identified areas that are trending away from the direction of the MDP/CTP targets, or where particular risks are perceived.

2013 monitoring progress report trends

While new communities in Calgary are being built at higher densities than ever before, the rate of growth in strategic areas (such as transit oriented nodes and corridors) has not occurred as fast as anticipated. Increasing transportation options and amenities in these areas should help to increase their attractiveness.

Transportation mode split indicator measures per cent of trips that are made by walking, cycling, transit and car. This indicator is underperforming. Between 2005 and 2011, since growth was concentrated in suburban areas, the city saw an increase in auto use relative to other travel methods.

Watershed health indicator measures the amount of impervious surface area (e.g. land covered by buildings, roadways, parking lots). There is a direct correlation between the increase in impervious surface (4 per cent compared to the baseline) and an increase in storm water runoff to rivers affecting water quality and quantity.

Another indicator showing neutral to negative direction is the balance of population and jobs in city quadrants. Particularly in the northwest, population is growing faster than employment. A greater balance between population and jobs could promote shorter commute times.

Continued reliance on fossil fuels for energy is increasing local and global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Population growth is affecting the environment through increased demand for land, changes to land use, air quality, water resources, as well as infrastructure needed to service the region. Increasing interest from the Province in regionalization may result in reliance on The City to develop and implement servicing strategies and conservation initiatives with other communities in the region.

It is predicted that the Calgary region will experience an increase in annual temperature and a higher frequency and intensity of extreme weather events including potential flooding, drought, longer wildfire seasons, longer freeze-free periods, and more freeze-thaw cycles.

The past several decades have seen an increase in worldwide disasters of all types, and this increasing frequency is expected to continue. Calgary specifically has endured several disasters in the last few years, including floods, hail storms, windstorms, derailments, pandemics, power disruptions, high-rise fires, industrial fires and associated technological disasters. While the cause of the increase in disasters is complex, there is no question that population density and an increasing reliance on technology has  exacerbated the impact of them both financially and physically.

Natural disasters reported 1900 to 2011

Natural Disasters Worldwide EM – DAT The International Disaster Database

Calgary is a highly connected city with almost 97 per cent of the general population having internet access at home. When customers and citizens connect with local government, there is an increased demand for transparency and such initiatives as providing services online and information through open data. The ability to identify and track such physical objects as City vehicles and electronic devices drives the need for better data management practices to manage devices remotely and in real-time. Mobile technology including web and mobile applications, as well as changes in work-styles, modes of communication and consumer expectations are all changing the way information moves among individuals and between and within organizations.

Calgary’s labour market has become increasingly tight despite the skilled and educated workforce that currently exists. Employers continue to face challenges in attracting, developing and retaining employees.

Economic forecasts point to increased demand for skilled positions, and it is expected that the labour market shortage will make it an employee’s market. In addition, the local labour market will be characterized by growing diversity and shifting age demographics. These factors, among others will place increased pressure on organizations, including The City of Calgary, to review their employer value proposition.

So what does this all mean?

The overall growth that Calgary is set to experience over the next business planning and budgeting cycle is expected to lead to a greater demand for municipal government services and change how such services are traditionally offered. In response, there is a need to be efficient and effective, balancing quality service delivery and infrastructure development with affordability in taxes and user fees for Calgarians. We will need to adapt our services to respond to the needs of a growing and changing population. Affordability and accessibility will need to be maintained.

As customer service standards continue to evolve, due in large part to other such service-intensive industries in the private sector including retail, and the public sector too will be required to respond. Research and development will continue to be required to understand and meet the needs of the changing Calgary community. Personalizing customer service, empowering staff and using technologies will collectively contribute to improving customer and citizen experiences.

More information on trends and implications as it relates to the specific departments and business units can be found in the department business plans and budget pages.

Content contributed by subject matter experts from across The City of Calgary.

Citizen Engagement

Citizen engagement activityThe Action Plan engagement strategy sought feedback from citizens and stakeholders using many channels and a variety of methods to gather a wide breadth of input that informed both Council Priorities and the development of Action Plan 2015-2018.

Engagement opportunities for citizens to provide input into Action Plan ran from March 1 to 21, 2014, both online and through a series of 21 in-person events throughout Calgary.

Online tools included a budget simulator that allowed citizens to increase or decrease City spending, making trade-offs from one service area to another; a priorities tool that gave participants the opportunity to share what priorities The City should focus on for the next four years; and a discussion tool where citizens could talk to each other online about their ideas and priorities.

In-person events gave citizens the same opportunities as online, in a paper form, and at least one engagement event was held in every ward.

The Action Plan awareness campaign began in mid-February and, utilizing all City marketing and communication channels, let citizens know of the engagement opportunities and gave them accessible ways to participate in-person and online.

In addition to these inclusive and broad-reaching engagement activities, The City also conducted ideation sessions and focus groups with recruited citizens as well as representatives of community agencies, the Calgary business community and The City of Calgary’s partner agencies.

Given the wide range of stakeholders and the potential impacts they could have on this complex project, it was determined that no single engagement approach on its own could provide enough input to support Council decision making. Therefore, the Action Plan engagement results reflect the diverse and thoughtful opinions, priorities, concerns and community aspirations of all participants.

Key Citizen Observations & City Actions

Although there were many ways for citizens to participate and thousands of interesting ideas, several key observations were apparent across all engagement streams and revealed consistent priorities regardless of how citizens participated in Action Plan engagement.

To meet citizen expectations, City staff carefully considered the engagement feedback, in concert with other such inputs as trends, Council Priorities, and indicative rates and fees. Below, are the key engagement findings as well as some of the ways that The City is working for citizens to ensure a balance between investing in quality public service and affordable tax rates and user fees.

Transit - An efficient and reliable public transit network was identified as a top priority consistently across all engagement streams. Areas of focus will improve efficiency of the system, provide more affordable commuting options, and increase accessibility to Calgary’s services and amenities.

Action Plan highlights:

  • invest in the Green Line Transitway
  • refurbish and buy new Light Rail Vehicles
  • introduce four car train service
  • implement electronic fare system
  • add 190,000 hours of new service from 2015 to 2018

Affordable housing - This emerged as a priority across input streams. Input ranged from commenting on the actual cost of renting or owning to other factors impacted by affordable housing costs including the cost of living, social isolation, talent attraction, general labour shortages, and increased pressure for subsidized access to services.

Action Plan highlights:

  • manage rentals, repairs and client relations to provide affordable homes and related services for vulnerable citizens
  • build, purchase or partner to increase supply of affordable housing
  • implementation of the Community Affordable Housing Strategy
  • corporate direction and implementation actions related to secondary suites

Other transportation - While public transit emerged as a priority on its own, it is clear that how Calgarians get around Calgary is a top-of-mind priority. A well-managed road system combined with pedestrian and cycle networks were expressed as a priority to provide for ease of access to local amenities, and for commuting.

Action Plan highlights:

  • improved pedestrian access to local amenities
  • investment in pathways
  • replacement of two bridges as well as several major road reconstructions

Other community/urban planning – Public safety was important with citizens expressing a strong desire for current safety levels to be maintained. Local parks, cultural amenities and recreation opportunities were key priorities because of their contribution to citizens’ overall quality of life. Citizens also indicated that less urban sprawl and an integrated approach to planning was desirable.

Action Plan highlights:

  • neighbourhood charters - a tool for community members to pinpoint the issues, opportunities and outcomes they would like to see in their area
  • develop, maintain and enhance new and existing parks
  • build four new recreation facilities, a new Central Library and fire stations
  • offer programs at affordable prices
  • preserve and enhance public safety with new bylaw officers, Transit Officers, and emergency management officers
  • city-wide green cart implementation
  • multi-family waste & recycling services

Efficiency/Effectiveness - There was an expressed desire for an improved demonstration of spending efficiencies in municipal service delivery. This includes deeper collaboration across The Corporation, and also with business, social agencies and Civic Partners. Input also demonstrated a need for demonstrated spending efficiencies and Cut Red Tape initiatives.

Action Plan highlights:

  • improved performance measures and benchmarking
  • increased online services, targeting 80 per cent of visitors being able to complete their task online via
  • implementation of efficiency and effectiveness strategies, including more Zero-Based Reviews
  • increased service with 311, Cityonline and including increased open data capabilities

Taxes/Tax Rates - There was an expressed preference to maintain service levels, even if accompanied by tax rate increases, while recognizing that property taxes could be a burden to those with lower or fixed incomes. As well, there is a strong desire for The City to demonstrate value and educate citizens on where tax dollars are spent through easily accessible and understandable information.

Action Plan highlights:

  • strengthened focus on sustainability initiatives across The Corporation
  • assist low-income home owners to maintain and remain in their homes through Property Tax Assistance Program grants
  • improve information for citizens regarding policy development, legislative processes and financial resource allocation
  • encourage increased participation in Tax Instalment Payment Plan (TIPP)

Aligning to long-term plans: Connecting the dots

imagineCALGARY was a City-led, community-owned initiative. More than 18,000 Calgarians added their voice in the development of the imagineCALGARY Plan for Long Range Sustainability, which was the result of the largest community visioning and consultation process in the world, at the time. It represents a shared vision for this community, extending 100 years into the future.

The Calgary Transportation Plan (CTP) and Municipal Development Plan (MDP) describe the policies that will shape the urban form of Calgary over the next 30 to 60 years. Together, they aim to build the kind of city that Calgarians have asked for – one that attracts jobs and investment, where people have more choices in where to live and how to travel, and which grows in an environmentally sound and affordable manner. Their purpose is to integrate social, economic and environmental objectives into decision making processes. Administration has identified five priority cross-departmental projects for this business cycle, selected as being the most important in making headway towards the CTP/MDP goals. These are Centre City Funding & Implementation, Corridor Program, Green Line Transitway and RouteAhead Program, Redevelopment Implementation Plan, and the Watershed Protection and Land Use Planning project.

Click on image for larger version

Aligning to long-term plans

  • The Long Range Financial Plan and 2020 Sustainability Direction bridge the gap between long-term goals and the four year plans and budgets. The Long-Range Financial Plan provides Council and the Administration with a longer-term perspective on The City’s financial prospects and sustainability. The 2020 Sustainability Direction provides 10-year policy goals guiding us towards environmental, social and financial sustainability.
  • 2015-2018 Action Plan: Council Priorities provide the primary direction for the next four years. They were created based on the MDP and CTP goals and the imagineCALGARY vision. Action Plan identifies the short-term steps The City needs to take to achieve its long term vision, with primary direction provided by Council Priorities. The new Action Plan’s four-year business plans and budgets also stress financial sustainability, improved transparency, and efficiency in how City services are delivered while maintaining The City’s flexibility to respond to economic, social, environmental and political changes.
  • Annual Workplans and Projects: The four-year Action Plan will be implemented through annual work plans and projects, embedded in individual performance goals. Actions and performance measures are assessed against targets and reported to Council bi-annually.

Strategic Highlights

The Department plans and budgets provide detailed information on how Council Priorities will be achieved over 2015 – 2018. Business plan actions and performance measures are organized by Council Priority, to more clearly show the alignment of Council Direction and Administration's response.

This section provides an overview of the proposed business plans and budgets as they relate to four specific areas of interest:

  • Continuing work towards recovery from the 2013 Flood;
  • Progress towards The City's long-term goals, and specifically the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and the Calgary Transportation Plan (CTP);
  • Responding to the needs of growth; and
  • Alignment of the business plans and budgets to the Leadership Team Strategic Plan, approved by Council on 2014 September 15.


In June 2013, Calgary experienced the largest flood in our modern history. It had a devastating impact to the built, economic, natural and social environments. The full impact of the June 2013 flood to City infrastructure encompassed more than 200 projects needing repairs or restoration work originally estimated at approximately $445 million. Since July 2013, almost half of the identified flood-impacted projects are complete or substantially complete, and another 72 projects in progress. The remaining projects are in various stages of planning. Action Plan 2015-2018 identifies new capital requests costing $81 million, along with an additional $46 million in previously approved projects, to address flood recovery. A map outlining the location of these projects can be found in Figure 30 in the Supplemental Information document. Action Plan includes only projects for flood recovery.

Five priority projects have been identified for 2015 – 2018 as being of particular importance in making headway towards achieving the Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and Calgary Transportation Plan (CTP) goals for Calgary over the next 30 to 60 years. These projects, listed below, are intended to respond to the areas that are trending away from the MDP/CTP targets. The projects address multiple Council Priorities and will involve cross-departmental collaboration to be successfully completed.

1. Centre City Funding & Implementation

This priority aims to support, coordinate and fund existing Centre City implementation plans and strategies, including enhancing the attractiveness and usability of public assets, facilities and infrastructure; increasing their use for public enjoyment and attracting new investment by businesses to support the economic engine of Calgary; making it easier for citizens to use public spaces in the Centre City, and increasing the accessibility to and within the Centre City of both people and goods based on the CTP Sustainability Triangle.

2. Corridor Program
This project is aimed at realizing the potential of the city’s Urban and Neighbourhood Corridors, as articulated in the MDP/CTP. This will involve employing a comprehensive “themed” approach that addresses the commonalities of all corridors, while respecting the uniqueness of each; scoping and reviewing policies and regulations affecting development in Urban and Neighbourhood Corridors; consolidating policy; considering new regulation and providing guidance for land use, urban design and development decisions.

3. Green Line Transitway and RouteAhead Program

This priority involves coordinating planning and infrastructure investments for the Green Line rapid transit project (which connects the north to southeast transit corridor) and ensures that it proceeds as quickly and efficiently as possible.

4. Redevelopment Implementation Plan

A more coordinated approach will be taken to ensure that sufficient redevelopment occurs to meet MDP/CTP targets. This will include determining requirements for land use planning, gaining a better understanding of infrastructure capacity and the levels of service necessary, brownfield issues, market analysis and other opportunities and constraints in our existing communities. The project will articulate what is required; formulate a sequenced approach to addressing each component, and coordinate work on those components.

5. Watershed Protection and Land Use Planning

The MDP/CTP provides a high level of support for watershed protection and management. However, plans and policies are not always well-coordinated with those for land use to ensure effective implementation on the ground. Consequently, land use planning and development approval processes are often at odds with watershed protection objectives. Specific actions to support this include incorporation of watershed planning within planning documents, adoption of new stormwater runoff development targets, incorporation of Low Impact Development (LID) practices, and coordinated integration of setback guidelines and riparian protection in land use planning.

All five projects are included within the proposed business plans and budgets. More details on delivering on these initiatives can be found in the specific department plans and budgets.

The City is continually servicing land to maintain a healthy inventory to meet the needs of the growing population. Business units from across the corporation have aligned their budgets and capital plans to support growth that matches the prioritized list of new growth areas. This represents a far greater level of corporate alignment than occurred in previous budget cycles.

The 2015-2018 Capital Budget contains new requests for approximately $2.1 billion for investment in growth areas and is expected to result in the servicing of nearly 1,400 additional hectares of land, with the ability to house almost 100,000 people in the Developing Areas alone, not including the capacity in the Developed Areas. Investment in redevelopment and industrial areas has also been incorporated into the budget. Capital projects and operating impacts to service these areas are included in the 2015-2018 Capital and Operating Budgets.

A list of the projects supporting growth in the developing areas can be found in Figure 31 of the Supplemental Information document. The Supplemental Information also includes maps identifying each growth area corresponding to the growth area codes in each business unit’s capital budget listing table and the location of capital projects. The City will continue to monitor growth and recommend adjustments to capital investment plans as required.

Leadership Team Strategic Plan and Contract with Council

On 2014 September 15, City Council approved the Leadership Team Strategic Plan and Contract with Council. It outlined the planned innovations in how the organization will work in the future, in order to provide the best possible services and outcomes for our citizens.

The Leadership Team Strategic Plan and Contract comprises five main elements. These will be embedded in the work of Administration over the next four years and, for that reason, are also reflected in this Action Plan. This section provides an overview of the links between the Leadership Team Strategic Plan and Action Plan 2015-2018. In some cases, the Strategic Plan initiatives are well defined or already underway; in others, further refinement will be needed to clarify expectations or outcomes.


This Action Plan, built around Council Priorities, is a cornerstone of the shared strategic agenda between Council and Administration. Over the next four years Administration will deliver on the commitments in the Action Plan, and will continue to work with Council in its determination of policy priorities and corporate direction. Accomplishments will be reported through a variety of new and existing methods, including the development of a citizen dashboard.

In addition to building a shared agenda with Council, the Action Plan has helped focus administrative leadership on common outcomes. The new organizational values of “Individual Responsibility and Collective Accountability” reflect a commitment to provide services across functional and organizational boundaries to build a collaborative workforce culture. Leaders will have the support and development opportunities to establish a culture that champions a diverse, inclusive and respectful workplace for employees and a progressive partnership with all Unions.

Ninety percent of Calgarians say we are on the right track to building a better city. Citizens have also said that they want the organization to maintain focus on spending and demonstrating value, to invest appropriately in infrastructure, to engage citizens and to lead in management accountability. In response, Administration has committed through this Action Plan to implement a performance management system that includes performance measurement, “zero-based” service reviews, service-based business plans and budgets, integrated risk management and individual performance appraisals. As well, we will develop a comprehensive strategy for citizen engagement and customer service delivery.

Using sound growth management policies to align decisions, Action Plan outlines Administration’s commitment to maximize limited resources in creating complete communities for all Calgarians. Administration will continue to seek out and improve relationships with all partners involved in the planning process. By working together and engaging in meaningful dialogue, Administration can continue progress towards the goals and objectives of the Municipal Development Plan.

Administration will continue regular reviews and updates of the Long-Range Financial Plan, to ensure progress towards the organization’s long-term financial sustainability. Specific actions related to financial forecasting and analysis, innovative financing techniques, debt management and investment will help to create an infrastructure investment strategy and generate more investment capital. Administration will also engage with the Government of Alberta on new fiscal and legislative policies, with the goal of securing a fiscal commitment from the Province.