This Week at Council - December 16-20, 2019

December 18, 2019

This week saw another busy week at Council. Here is my rationale for issues including the Green Line LRT, retirement bonuses, and efficiencies at Calgary Parking Authority.

Green Line LRT:

The Green Line LRT Committee met on Tuesday to discuss Stage 1 Alignment options and guiding principles that I helped shape. Since that meeting, the following quote in the Calgary Herald has made some waves and I feel has been taken way out of context:

“While we’re servicing a lot of this to significant portions of the city that are lacking transit, the entire city is paying for this,” said Davison. “So we need to be mindful and extra careful that we’re doing our due diligence to ensure that this is the best possible project and spend for all Calgarians, not just the people it will service.”

I think it is important that I clarify what I mean by this. First, I believe in the Green Line LRT – it is a much needed piece of City infrastructure and is an essential project to meet the transportation needs of Calgarians. Since being elected in 2017, our City has grown by 40,000 people – by 2024, we are projected to grow by another 94,000.

The Green Line LRT project is unlike anything we have ever seen at the City of Calgary. The project is budgeted for $4.9 Billion dollars – or over 15 times the City’s portion of the Event Centre. Full stop. Simply put, it is the largest infrastructure project that the City has ever undertaken.

We cannot simply compare apples to oranges here: fundamentally, the size and scope of the Green Line and the Event Centre are completely different. And to be clear, this is an “And” conversation, not an “or” as some would like to equate it to.

With that in mind, yes, I believe we need to tread cautiously to get the project right. The main reason we are doing further work on the alignment is to ensure the downtown component can be done with minimal financial risk – which is pegged to be billions of dollars. That has been clear since July.

Taking the time to apply extra financial rigour and evaluate the potential risk is, I believe, the committee’s fiduciary duty to all Calgarians. This cannot be a project at any cost, but rather should be about the best rider experience we can provide for the funding we have.

Moreover, the Green Line LRT project has missed critical stakeholder engagement – not with the general public, but with the people and organizations signing onto the multiparty agreements that will realize this project. We cannot just make a train-line happen on private land – and we can’t have an alignment without affected stakeholder agreement.

Finally, given the current relationship with the federal and provincial governments, I believe that there is no appetite from any of the parties funding the project for cost overruns. Therefore, taking the time to be realistic and feasible is appropriate for where we are at on the project.

Retirement bonuses:

I voted in favour of ending retirement bonuses at the City, in a 13-1 vote. This program has been in place since 1964 for certain City of Calgary staff – it is important to remember this plan was not applicable for all employees.

As of December 31, 2021 the practice will end. The reason for the 2021 phase out is due to significant legal risk – if we were to end the practice sooner, which is much more optimal, legal counsel advised us that this would expose the City to significant and compounded legal challenges that could ultimately be incredibly more costly than phasing the program out in a sensible manner.

Furthermore, when I asked, it was noted that any Councillor who did not support the timed phase-out could make themselves and Council as a whole personally liable by intentionally ignoring the significant legal advice provided. In the end, I voted to protect taxpayer money from catastrophic liability and to deal with things in a proactive way.

Calgary Parking Authority efficiencies and effectiveness:

I was pleased to see City Council approve the Notice of Motion Councillor Chu and myself prepared on making the Calgary Parking Authority more efficient and effective in its operations. As you may be aware, the Calgary Parking Authority is an organization that pays a yearly dividend back to the City of Calgary. By exploring options to potentially make the Authority into a wholly-owned subsidiary of the City, I believe that this could potentially increase the dividend, which in turn could be used towards City operations.

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