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Back  |  September 05, 2014  | 

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Like many Albertans, I was excited about the Progressive Conservative leadership race. The battle to be our next premier had attracted three good candidates with very different philosophies. And it would unfold over many months, giving Albertans plenty of time to see the candidates interact, and for the candidates to share their visions for the province and the policies to make those visions real.

As we know, the experience has been quite different. There have been few debates, and the policy announcements have ranged from the irrelevant to the bizarre. I’ve heard few specifics about the issues that Albertans consistently rank as most important to them whether it be education funding, significant improvement to the health care system, or (of course) Alberta’s big cities.

Nonetheless, I have a lot of respect for all three candidates. I had the chance to sit down with all three earlier this summer and had great meetings with each. They listened and engaged intently as I highlighted the issues of concern to The City of Calgary.

All do agree that the relationship between The City and The Province was broken, and that the funding model—under which Calgary taxpayers send $4 billion more to The Province than we receive in all provincial services every year—needed to be addressed.

We have to have these conversations because they matter so much to the lives of Calgarians. For example, the creation of the Green Line (the north-central and south-east LRT) is a priority for our citizens, but if we can’t figure out how to cover the $5 billion price tag together, it will not get built. We need that and so much other infrastructure because the growth of our cities—and the needs associated with that growth—is very real. In the last three years, Calgary gained more people than the entire population of Red Deer. We need to act now to find solutions to that and other topics ranging from providing front-line services to eliminating homelessness and poverty in our cities.

With this in mind, I asked the candidates to respond to a survey called Cities Matter. We’ve done this before. In the last PC leadership race and in the last provincial election, we asked each candidate or party specific questions on how they would address city issues, and they all did so. We published their results verbatim to help voters make up their minds.

This time around, all the campaigns responded to the survey without any prodding, and we’ve once again posted the results at CitiesMatter.ca.

I will admit that I am a bit disappointed. No candidate staked out any bold positions. The answers ranged from vague (at best) to taking us backward (at worst).

We’ve been working diligently on a city charter, for example, through three premiers and four municipal affairs ministers. The PC Party in the last election highlighted the need for these charters. However, all three candidates would take us a step backward on this, something that Calgarians and Edmontonians can ill afford.

None of the candidates offered a clear way forward on the stalled Calgary Metropolitan Plan, and none talked in any detail about how they would assist cities with the cost of growth, infrastructure, downloaded social servicing or policing. None could even muster up the ability to say that abruptly cutting all funding to Calgary’s Performing Arts Centre (a tiny amount for this government but huge for the arts community) was a mistake.

What I am looking for is specific policy ideas that we could debate and discuss with citizens. Even if the policy positions were “the Mayor is wrong and here’s why”, we’d have a place to begin.

There was some good news: all three candidates will review (and hopefully reverse) Alberta Health Services’ decision to make unnecessary, costly changes to a 911 system that is working very well as it is. All of them were willing to work with the cities as partners, not as enemies. If we’re going to ensure the prosperity of this province and its citizens, we must work together to build the cities we need—cities that move, that are affordable, and where people want to live and thrive.

All five parties in the last election agreed that the current system doesn’t work and that change is needed. The Opposition parties have, in varying degrees, developed plans, policies, and commitments to fix the problems. Some are good, some are bad, but they exist.

Our new Premier will have a short period of time to catch up and prove to all Albertans that cities matter. And I sincerely look forward to working with him to help make that happen.

- Mayor Naheed Nenshi ​

Categories: Columns; Provincial

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