Calgary Mayor Gondek shares vision for economic recovery

Click to play video: 'Calgary’s mayor addresses business community ahead of budget' Calgary’s mayor addresses business community ahead of budget
Watch: Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek shared her vision for the economic future of the city at a luncheon hosted by the Chamber of Commerce on Friday. As Adam MacVicar reports, the address comes days ahead of budget deliberations at city hall – Nov 19, 2021

Calgary’s new mayor has a specific vision of how she wants to see Calgary’s economic recovery manifest, including a transitioning of the energy industry, cultivation of the growing tech sector, embracing more women entrepreneurship and the continued support of small business.

“The list of challenges and worries that Calgarians face is as diverse as it is long, but what warmed my heart and fueled me is how all of these people showed up for their city,” Mayor Jyoti Gondek said Friday. “They believe that change is possible here, and they set about turning their own challenges into opportunities.”

Gondek addressed a lunch with members of the city’s business community, the largest one hosted by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce since the start of the pandemic. Attendees needed to provide proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.

Read more: Calgary mayor pushes Municipal Affairs minister on police funding, embattled Councillor Chu

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The mayor said the city has “borne the brunt of a global energy crisis and an accompanying recession,” has also been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and has been on the “front line of climate change” with fires, flood and hailstorms all affecting Calgarians in the last decade.

Gondek said the cost of inaction on the climate file is “far too high.”

“People cling to the notion that you either support economic recovery or you support environmental sustainability, that you simply can’t do both. This is not true. We can and we must take action.”

Read more: Calgary councillors vote to declare climate emergency

She added that, with oilsands companies already having made net zero commitments, city council’s recent declaration of a climate emergency is the municipal government aligning with industry.

“As the world demands cleaner energy forms, we cannot afford to be left behind and we simply can’t lose our seat at the table. The risks are real, but the possibilities are equally real. We must be leaders here.”

Gondek agreed with Chamber CEO Deborah Yedlin’s characterization, that declaring a climate emergency is “table stakes” for a municipality like Calgary.

“You have to use the words climate emergency to be taken seriously,” the mayor said.

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“We have a very hard time understanding that things transition over time, and declaring the climate emergency means that you are committed to that transition over time. That’s what we’re demonstrating as a municipality and that’s what the energy sector is committed to as well: a transition over time.”

Gondek reiterated her support for small business in the city, saying council is working to make Calgary “the best place for small business” by ensuring fair tax rates, reducing city bureaucracy, building out transportation infrastructure and investing in the downtown core.

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Calgary’s film and television industry is booming: IATSE president – Nov 17, 2021

The mayor also said that governments need to continue investing in the increasingly pressured non-profit sector.

“I am no longer comfortable with this idea that a certain order of government has a certain responsibility,” Gondek said. “I think it’s going to be incredibly important moving forward to understand that federal, provincial and municipal governments must work together to address issues like homelessness to address issues of poverty and mental health. Because we, locally, see it in front of us.”

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Read more: City of Calgary on standby to send help to areas impacted by floods in B.C.

With overland shipping routes from the Port of Vancouver to the interior of B.C. and onwards to Alberta knocked out due to flooding, Gondek said it might be time to reconsider reliance on the international supply chain.

“We have relied very, very heavily on global players and external ports to provide us with the things that we need,” she said. “If you talk to the experts in supply chain and logistics in our city — and there’s a network of them — they’re telling us that’s come at a grave cost.

“So I think we need to rethink how we manufacture goods in our own country, and I think we need to understand that the cost of that will be higher than going out internationally, but it might give us some of the stability and predictability that we need.”

Budget Adjustments 

Gondek’s address to the business community comes days ahead of budget deliberations at city hall.

City council will begin adjustments to the final year of the four-year budget starting Monday.

The current proposal shows a 0.64 per cent increase in the property tax rate for next year. A request of $6 million from the Calgary Police Service could increase the rate change up to 0.99 per cent.

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The proposed increase would translate into between $1 and $1.60 increase per month for a typical homeowner.

After a challenging year for local businesses, Kensington’s Business Improvement Area said it hopes council continues civic supports for small businesses by keeping taxes low.

“We hope the city will continue to mitigate those tax increases, especially for our small and medium-sized businesses, which aren’t out of the woods yet,” Kensington BIA president Annie MacInnis told Global News.

But new documents released ahead of the meeting show the tax rate could jump even higher due to $150 million in budget requests.

According to city administration, the increase to the tax rate could be between 3.7 and 4.06 per cent if all of the requests are approved by council.

That increase would translate into a nearly $5 per month hike for the typical homeowner.

The 22 requests include enhancements for affordable housing, downtown park security, multiple climate initiatives, arts and culture support, public safety, including for riders on Calgary Transit, traffic safety and accessibility improvements, and snow and ice removal.

It will be up to council which, if any, receive the funding being asked of the city.

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce said the hope is some of the funding that council will ponder next week will be invested in the downtown core.

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“Continuing to invest in the downtown revitalization strategy,” Yedlin said. “We’re hoping that money is approved by council so that we can continue to work to make the downtown the vibrant place we know it can be.”

Yedlin noted they are monitoring the flood situation in B.C. and any impacts to local businesses due to supply chain interruptions.

Gondek said the city would continue it’s commitment to support small businesses.

“We will continue the work that we’ve done in listening to what their needs are and then either advocating for them or ensuring that we have measures in place to support them,” the mayor said.

Budget deliberations begin on Monday with a public hearing.


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