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2019 retrospective, 2020 hopes with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi

Click to play video: 'Naheed Nenshi Year in Review 2019: Economy, taxes and provincial relationships'
Naheed Nenshi Year in Review 2019: Economy, taxes and provincial relationships
WATCH: Global News' Tracy Nagai sits down with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to discuss the year that was, and what to expect in 2020. In Part 1, they discuss the economy, taxes and the city’s relationship with the province. – Dec 31, 2019

As the final hours of 2019 approach, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is reminiscing on how the past 365 days went in the city and how he hopes the next 366 will go.

Economy, property taxes and businesses

In a year-end interview with Global News, Nenshi met the question of where Calgary’s economy is going with optimism.

“If you look at the cold, soulless numbers, you will see that on almost every measure Calgary is doing better than it was at this time last year — better than 2017 and much better than 2016,” he said.

“But I think a lot of families are not feeling that themselves,” Nenshi added, citing frozen wages and unemployment rates.

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The mayor said he wants to spend 2020 telling stories of business success.

“I’m also really excited about some of the irons we have in the fire about non-energy sector businesses that are looking at investing here in Calgary, and ultimately, I’m confident about small businesses in Calgary being able to thrive,” he said.

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Nenshi addressed the controversial issue of property taxes, mentioning that the city has spent about $200 million over the last three years on direct cash rebates for businesses.

“Spending that money year on year is really just a Band-Aid, and sometimes you need a Band-Aid if you’re bleeding,” he said.

“But this year, council decided to do something a bit more structural. So in our budget, we kept the overall tax increase at zero but we’re asking each homeowner to pay a little bit more in order that businesses can pay a lot less,” Nenshi explained.

“So every homeowner will see an increase next year, on average, of about $12 a month, but that will mean that businesses — because there [are] fewer businesses than homes — will see a huge decrease. And that’s one way in which we can support businesses.”
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Click to play video: 'Naheed Nenshi Year in Review 2019: Calgary event centre, Green Line LRT and council'
Naheed Nenshi Year in Review 2019: Calgary event centre, Green Line LRT and council

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It’s not something that solely comes down to government policies, he said, encouraging people to shop local.

“That helps us get us more independent, helps businesses succeed and helps protect us from the vagaries of international oil prices,” Nenshi said.

Alberta government

While Nenshi said he has respect for the provincial government’s fiscal challenges, he said it has an “enormous amount of work to do.”

“The challenge, I think, is that a lot of these folks are very new in their roles,” he said. “They’ve come from a very partisan political fight or background, and sometimes their reaction is to lash out when they should be reaching out.”

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They mayor’s hope for 2020 is that the province will see partners around every corner rather than enemies.

“When citizens see politicians attacking other politicians, making personal insults, they think, ‘Who are these bozos we hired?'” he said.

“They want to see partnership, they want to see collaboration and they want to see services delivered effectively at reasonable tax rates. I think that we can all agree on that.”

Event centre deal

In early December, the city reached a partnership with the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Group to build a new arena and event centre that will serve as a future home for the Calgary Flames.

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Nenshi said the deal was a tough choice for politicians.

“Is that the best possible way we could spend $275 million of public money? Maybe. Maybe not. Is it a very good deal for citizens? I think so. I was about to say a great deal. I think [it’s] a very good deal for citizens,” he said.
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The mayor explained that the Flames organization is kicking in half the cost.

“We have structured it in such a way that the city gets its money back over time, but also that we have the ability to create something new and special in that neighbourhood,” Nenshi said.

“I think that the combination of the arena there with the expansion of the BMO Centre to create one of the largest convention centres in Canada will really serve as one anchor of a cultural and entertainment district with restaurants, a lot of people living there, a lot of vitality.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi sits down with Global News to discuss the ups and downs of 2019. Global News

Green Line LRT

The Green Line is the largest public works project in Calgary’s history, Nenshi said.

“Every project since I’ve been mayor has been delivered on time and on budget, and I do not want to ruin that record with a $4.9-billion project,” he said. “So it’s important to get all of the hard work done early so that we’re not surprised later.”

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When 2020 strikes, Nenshi said the city has to do three things — with help from provincial and federal governments — to ensure the project gets done:

  1. Finalize design given the water table and budget
  2. Get funding certainty from the province and feds
  3. Clarify the clause that says the province can walk away with 90 days notice with no cause

Council cattiness

Nenshi said council is getting along better, given the growing pains that every newly elected group goes through.

“I think this autumn we’ve really buckled down and said, ‘Listen, no one’s interested in us fighting with one another,'” he said. “People are interested in results.”

Nenshi said he wasn’t proud of council’s record in the first two-thirds of 2019, adding that he thinks councillors made a mistake with $60 million in cuts without really thinking about citizens.

“In the fall, we reversed two of the most egregious cuts in terms of keeping the Beltline and Inglewood pools open for another two years, and reversing some of the cuts to Calgary Transit,” he said.

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“We shouldn’t have done that. We should have been much more thoughtful about what we were doing together, and I’m hopeful that council will not repeat that and that we’ll be able to just focus entirely on serving citizens going forward.”

Message to Calgarians

Nenshi said he hopes Calgarians are grateful for where they get to call home.

“Even though we live in an era of angry and divisive political rhetoric, even though it feels like people are upset all the time, I always try to remember every day that we get to live here,” he said. “We get to live in this place where Indigenous people came thousands of years ago to start to build community, and we’ve been building community together ever since.

“So my big message for 2020 is I want to try and live in gratitude for what we’ve got and to build on that every day and to build a life of dignity and opportunity for everyone who’s lucky enough to live here. And I hope that everyone will share in that and that we’ll continue to build community together.”

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