An Apology to Calgary's Business Community and Our Plan Moving Forward

This week was difficult.  Many Calgary businesses received their property tax bills and saw an unsustainable increase that threatens their livelihood.

I apologize that those tax bills went out and the anxieties they have caused the business community. Those bills should have never have gone out. I also apologize that during this economic crisis there has been a lack of leadership, right from the top.

This problem has been a long time coming. Past city councils have made some questionable decisions on City taxation.  Quite honestly, we have depended too much on businesses to support our city. Now, the process around assessment has failed us– and businesses are closing.

With all that said, there is a group of City Councillors prepared to make a fix come Monday:

First, we have committed $71 million from our “rainy day” fund to help offset these outrageous business tax hikes.  There is no doubt that it is raining hard right now and we need to protect businesses.

Second, – our plan will direct the administration to find an additional $60 M in operating budget cuts by the end of July.

This is $131 million will ensure that 2019 non-residential taxes will not increase over 2018 rates, and will in fact, ensure a cut from those 2018’s non-residential rates. We need our businesses in our communities to stay as healthy as possible and this will provide immediate relief.

Finally, we will be talking to our partners in the Province to find a solution together that addresses the assessment reform, so that this does not happen again.

A long-term fix is needed, and I am fully prepared to have that conversation. But for now, please accept my apology for this mess and know that those of us on City Council who are willing to stand up and protect small business in our City. Thank you.

Economic development is vital to Calgary’s future

It is no secret that times are tough in Calgary.

Every day, the price differential on our oil seems to get steeper. Our unemployment level is stubbornly high at more than eight per cent – the second highest in all of Canada. The downtown vacancy rate approaching 30 per cent has resulted in a tax revenue shortfall for the City of approximately $89 million.

As Council debates the budget this week, we are constantly asking ourselves, “How can we provide better value for the tax dollars we receive from Calgarians?”

Throughout this budget week, there has been much discussion about the services that the City of Calgary provides and the costs associated with them.

Outside of “essential services”, which include the Calgary Fire Department, the Calgary Police Service and the transportation department, the City has civic partners like Calgary Economic Development, which are funded in part by the City.

In this budget cycle, some have specifically called that Calgary Economic Development’s budget be slashed. Given the economic state our City finds itself in, I believe that now is not the time be doing so.

Economic development agencies like Calgary Economic Development are common in cities across Canada. Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto all have a similar organization.  Let me be clear, in today’s economy, these cities are our direct competition for jobs and talent. Calgary must now compete for talent and employers more aggressively and in different ways than ever before.

This begs the question: what does Calgary Economic Development do? The organization's mandate is to achieve economic success, embrace shared prosperity, and build a strong community for Calgary. In practice, the organization attracts new businesses to come and invest in Calgary, while retaining existing business. It is also vast resource for local businesses of all sizes, providing support for workforce management, startups and expansion.

In today’s economy, Calgary Economic Development is actively pursuing new areas of business diversification. So far in 2018, 77 companies were attracted, retained or expanded in part due to its efforts. This has resulted in creation of more than 3,400 direct and 3,100 indirect jobs.

Moreover, it is the organization that will oversee the execution and implementation of the City’s economic strategy.

Another role of Calgary Economic Development is to oversee the City’s $100 million Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund. At the request of several hundred business and industry leaders, this Fund was created by City Council to directly combat the downtown office vacancy problem.

Specifically, the Fund “provides opportunities for private sector companies, non-profits, and public institutions to make transformative investments in Calgary that will be catalysts for economic growth, diversification, increased employment and the expansion of the property tax assessment base.” To be clear, expand our tax base, not increase our rate.

I have heard from critics of Calgary Economic Development – and my answer to them is always the same. Doing nothing gets us nowhere. Period, full stop.

Given the state of our economy, it is imperative that we actively promote the very agency tasked with combatting our economic challenges. For this is the group that addresses how we not only market our City or the global business community, but allows us to directly compete in the new global economy.

The value of Calgary Economic Development cannot be understated – now is not the time be cutting its funding.  I encourage every citizen to go to their website, and better understand the breadth of work, Calgary Economic Development manages on your behalf. ( )