Inflation and investment: Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek looks back at 2022

Click to play video: 'Inflation, investment and promoting diversity: Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek looks back at 2022'
Inflation, investment and promoting diversity: Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek looks back at 2022
Inflation, investment and promoting diversity: Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek looks back at 2022 – Dec 30, 2022

With the year coming to a close, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said she is focused on advancing the city’s economy and addressing social issues in the city in the upcoming year.

Speaking to Global News on Friday, Gondek said she is committed to the council’s downtown revitalization strategy to create a vibrant urban centre in the middle of the city.

The strategy will include converting thousands of former office spaces into residential units, which will not only drive the local economy but also address housing insecurity in the city. Gondek estimated that 777,000 square feet of former office spaces will be converted into approximately 700 residential units.

“We endorsed the downtown revitalization strategy back in 2021 and it was a partnership between many stakeholder groups. There were business owners, downtown advocates and our own administration,” Gondek told Global Calgary anchor Linda Olsen.

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“They said investing money now would help us recover, and we stayed true to that mission and that vision.

“That’s a big change for us because downtown was primarily a place to work. Now it’s going to be a place where more people are living and it’s going to be more active… That’s meaningful to any city.”

Gondek also talked about safety concerns on public transit and downtown areas, which will also be acknowledged in the downtown revitalization strategy.

Click to play video: '‘Early days’: Calgary officials recognize safety needed for downtown revitalization'
‘Early days’: Calgary officials recognize safety needed for downtown revitalization

A recent ThinkHQ Public Affairs survey found that a majority of Calgarians perceive the city as less safe than it was three years ago. Around 53 per cent of 1,172 Calgarians surveyed said they feel less safe in the city, and 48 per cent of those surveyed felt that crime is high in the city today.

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“(Projects like these) also get interest from government partners. I know the federal government is interested in seeing how they can assist with some of the revitalization plan,” the mayor said.

“The provincial government announced they would invest almost $200 million between Calgary and Edmonton to make transit safer and to help vulnerable people get to a better place.

“All of that impacts downtown and a growing city.”

Foreign investors interested in Calgary, said mayor

Canadian investors aren’t the only people who are interested in establishing business relations in Calgary, Gondek said.

Foreign investors, such as the U.S.’ film and television industry, are interested in setting up shop in the city as well.

Gondek said she spent much of the last year promoting Calgary’s economic development, tourism and business opportunities.

“We really try to get the word out about what Calgary has to offer not only from a visitor’s perspective but as a place to locate your business and bring people to live here,” she said.

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“We have gone out to Toronto to talk about how (the tech industry) has taken off in Calgary, and I think we’ve been successful because we’re not talking about tech as a sector but how they are the new face of business in Calgary.”

The mayor also took a trip to Los Angeles this year to talk to film executives about producing movies and TV shows in and around the city. The upcoming HBO show The Last of Us was filmed in Calgary and other parts of Alberta.

“Most people down there know that we have film crews. We have on-camera and behind-the-scenes talent and we have the infrastructure that’s needed (to produce those films). It’s just promoting who we are,” Gondek said.

But a core part of those meetings is trying to rebrand the city’s image away from just cowboys and Stampede.

“I think the important thing for Calgary is to embrace the fact that we are diverse. There are many faces of Calgary. We’re the third most diverse city in this nation and most people don’t know that,” she said.

“It’s important to have different voices telling our story. It is a great idea to have someone who’s young and a newcomer to Canada saying that they feel welcome and that they belong here.

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“It’s also equally important to have someone who’s had generations of family in this city say that they stayed here because it’s a great place to live. All of those voices need to be heard.”

Click to play video: 'Mayor Gondek heads to Los Angeles to sell Calgary to Hollywood'
Mayor Gondek heads to Los Angeles to sell Calgary to Hollywood

Inflation is a huge concern

Despite the ambitious projects and goals for the next year, Gondek acknowledged that inflation is a huge concern for Calgarians who are looking to pay more in property taxes in the city’s upcoming four-year budget.

Property taxes will see an average annual increase of 3.7 per cent over the four-year term of the 2023-2026 budget, which was passed in November. The average single-family home in Calgary will see a property tax increase of 5.2 per cent next year, or $9.83 a month.

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But Gondek said the city is looking to the federal and provincial governments for help funding projects such as the bus electrification strategy, which aims to replace up to 250 diesel buses with zero- and low-emission vehicles at the end of their life cycle starting in 2023.

City staff said they have filed an application to the Canada Infrastructure Bank for a $168 million loan, along with a $223 million grant from Canada Zero Emission Transit Fund (ZETF). The city will fund the remaining $100 million, staff said.

“The beauty of making this switch from diesel to the electric fleet is the savings and operations will actually pay for that conversion and it’ll pay the loan and the interest. We’ll be making a clean shift that pays for itself,” Gondek said.

Click to play video: 'Calgary city council approves 4-year budget with tax hike of 4.4% next year'
Calgary city council approves 4-year budget with tax hike of 4.4% next year

Gondek also said the city is looking to re-evaluate how much property taxes businesses will have to pay. A decision will be made early next year.

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“A few years back, roughly 55 per cent of the responsibility of the budget was on the business sector. We rectified that situation a few years back and we changed it to 48 per cent,” she said.

“But only 20 per cent of the revenue that’s generated from property taxes comes from these businesses, and when you consider that 95 per cent of our businesses are small businesses, they do need more equitable treatment.”

Alberta’s Sovereignty Act may be a challenge

Alberta’s new sovereignty act may propose a challenge for the city, Gondek said.

Bill 1, otherwise known as the Alberta Sovereignty Within A United Canada Act, was given royal assent on Dec. 15 by Lt.-Gov. Salma Lakhani. Premier Danielle Smith had promised to pass the sovereignty bill throughout her leadership campaign to push back on what Alberta believes is unconstitutional federal interference on provincial matters.

But the bill has received harsh criticism from members of the Opposition and Albertans. Most notably, Onion Lake Cree Nation has taken legal action against Alberta over the bill, arguing it breaches treaty and constitutional rights.

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Gondek said the bill puts Calgary in an unfavourable position.

“The province is trying to deliver a message to the federal government that if you don’t engage with us in a meaningful way, we don’t wish to have laws enforced upon us that we believe are unfair. In that same vein, I would say that municipalities need to be heard by the province,” she said.

“We have asked for a long time to have a more fair deal for the city. To only have property tax as our certainty and predictability of revenue is really detrimental to our citizens.”

Gondek also said the city may be asked to defy federal orders as a result of Bill 1.

“If the provincial government says it doesn’t want us to do what the federal government is saying, we’re stuck in the middle, almost like two parents arguing and whatever decision we make will be the wrong decision for one order of government. That’s a very untenable position for us,” she added.

Click to play video: 'Danielle Smith compares Ottawa’s treatment of Alberta to struggles of First Nations'
Danielle Smith compares Ottawa’s treatment of Alberta to struggles of First Nations

Mayor looking forward to a new year

But despite the challenges, Gondek said the past year has been a great lesson for her and her colleagues even though she got hate and harassment from constituents.

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As the first female mayor of Calgary, Gondek said her experience has been “interesting.”

“One of the most meaningful things we’ve done as a council is use process and diligence to our advantage. We have said that this is how we do proper civil discourse,” she said.

“I think that type of structure and willingness to work together has been positive for us, even when we don’t agree with each other. When you are seen and heard and you’re able to vote in a disciplined way, you can still get the job done.”

Gondek encourages Calgarians to be compassionate and kind to each other going into the new year.

“I know it’s been tough, and I know you have been patient as we are coming out of some pretty tough times and I want to thank everyone for persevering through it,” she said.

“Let’s continue to be kind and compassionate to each other. There are great things on the horizon and we are heading that way together.”

–With files from Global News’ Adam MacVicar, Adam Toy and Meaghan Archer.

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