The economy, entrepreneurs and efficiency at city hall were the three themes for a trio of top-polling candidates for the Calgary mayor’s office at a town hall hosted by the Chamber of Commerce Monday night. However, at the end of the evening, the conversation devolved into a battle of personality rather than policy by the two top contenders.
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“We’ve all had employees that showed a lot of promise,” candidate Bill Smith said, taking aim at incumbent Naheed Nenshi while choosing not to name him. “But as time goes along you realize they’re maybe not the right person for the job.”
“They don’t listen to advice, they don’t keep their promises, they don’t learn from their mistakes, they don’t work well with others, and they always think they’re the smartest person in the room.”
“What do you do,” Smith asked. “You fire them.”
Talking to reporters after the event Nenshi snapped back at Smith, taking aim at the former Alberta PC president’s vagueness in explaining how he’d run the city.
“I think it’s important not just to say ‘we’ll fix it,'” Nenshi said. “‘We’ve gotta do something’ – that’s a line we heard today from Mr. Smith. Well, what’s something?”
“You wouldn’t hire anybody who actually has no idea what they’re talking about. You wouldn’t hire anybody who’s never walked into your building before. You wouldn’t hire anybody who’s never been to a city council meeting.”
Nenshi described Smith as somebody with “big money but small ideas.”
When pressed on the lack of detail in his talking points, Smith pointed to the long tenure of both Nenshi and Andre Chabot as the basis for their ability to be more thorough in their answers.
“These two guys have had seven years to learn all the details on everything,” Smith said. “I’ll admit I’ve got a lot to learn.”
Watch below: Political commentator Janet Brown, former city councillor John Mar and Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt join Scott Free to break down the Calgary Chamber of Commerce town hall.
There were tough questions from the room through the night on matters related to business in the city. A large portion of the evening focused on property taxes, with one business owner telling the candidates she shut the doors on the business just two days earlier.
“Last year the city found $45 million to cap the property tax increases that commercial spaces were facing,” Mallory Chapman, founder of Studio Revolution Fitness, said. “But that was a one-time solution.”
Chapman told the room her property tax increased by 150 per cent in the most recent assessment.
“I’m interested in what your long-term plan is to address the revenue shortfall.”
“A tax deferral solution would have spread out the load over a 10-year time frame,” an apologetic Chabot said, explaining his preference was to find an alternative to the property tax cap which council voted in favour of. “You would not have been impacted day one and you could have stayed in business and maybe actually been able to pay that increase over a long period of time.”
Smith said Chapman’s story was similar to others he has heard from clients of his law firm, and took aim at the spending habits of city hall.
“These guys don’t care about your tax dollars,” Smith said. “They just spend like there’s no tomorrow.”
“We’re in an economic downturn and they continue to hire people. I just don’t understand that.”
Nenshi took offence to Smith’s comments, calling them unfair, adding that he worked over the Christmas break with city solicitors to come up with the plan to cap property taxes.
“The big answer of course is you’ve gotta fill those downtown office spaces,” he said. “In the meantime we have to find the short-term solutions.”
Watch below: A new poll asked Calgarians what they thought the single most important issue facing the city was. Doug Vaessen has details on the results.
While the chamber was pressing for greater tax equity between residential and business tax rates, no firm commitment was made by any of the candidates to take that on immediately.
“We wanted to hear some greater commitment as to bringing the spending under control and how they were going to do that,” Calgary Chamber president and CEO Adam Legge said. “I don’t think any business owners here came away with any sense of ‘how is this city going to make sure we’re thriving and surviving if these people are elected mayor.'”
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With files from Carolyn Kury de Castillo