Paul Keating said, “Politicians come in three varieties: straight men, fixers and maddies.”
Oh, please let there be a fourth kind of politician–a thoughtful visionary.
Calgarians go to the polls on Oct 16 to elect a mayor and 14 councillors. Candidates are out in full force and anyone who cares about the future is button-holing them at every opportunity.
Last week Ms Soapbox attended a Town Hall meeting at the Rosscarrock Community Association. Only 39 people (!) showed up but the candidates performed as if the place was packed to the rafters.
Four people want to represent Ward 8: Carter Thomson, who operates One Way Food & Deli, Karla Charest, an IT consultant, Chris Davis, a lawyer who works primarily with developers, and Evan Woolley, the incumbent.
Ms Soapbox wondered whether one of them would turn out to be a thoughtful visionary.
Everyone was against tax hikes and reckless spending.
Davis said he’d manage the budget by limiting tax increases to inflation (COLA). While this sounds good in theory it would have left Calgarians underserviced from 2010 to 2017 when the average annual inflation rate was 1.6% and Calgary’s population grew by about 3% year after year.
Woolley pointed out that the budget was set during the boom in 2014 and increases had dropped significantly since then. This year’s increase is 1.5% which is less than inflation which sits at 2.39%.
Woolley was the only candidate to focus on the real issue: what services do we want and what are we prepared to pay for them?
A vision for Calgary
The candidates were asked about their positions on the Flames arena proposal, public art, bike paths, affordable housing and seniors who want to stay in their homes. The candidates’ answers illustrate their vision (or lack thereof) for Calgary.
Flames arena: Woolley said Calgarians must benefit from any public spending on the arena and it should be part of a bigger vision for Calgary that would see a sports arena developed along side of condos and businesses. Davis said Calgarians thought the City’s offer was “a pretty good deal” and the City still had time to negotiate with the Flames. Charest and Thomson preferred the original NEXT site.
Public art: This question was triggered by the public uproar over the Bowfort Towers installation next to the TransCanada highway (for those who haven’t see it, it’s a $500,000 structure comprised of four upright steel beams cradling Rundle rock).
Woolley and Davis support public art as a way to make the city attractive to people and corporations but Davis questioned whether too much was being spent on it.
Woolley was comfortable with 1% of taxpayer funded capital projects being set aside for public art, noting that developers could spend 4% of their capital costs on public art in return for bonuses to increase project size and density.
Charest was against public art saying it wasn’t a civic responsibility. Thomson thought the process for selecting public art was flawed.
Affordable housing: This was a no brainer. Everyone agreed Calgary needs to increase its stock of affordable housing and ensure it’s built to the highest safety standards.
Seniors aging in place: Woolley suggested secondary suites and small condos with shops at street level would allow seniors to remain in their neighbourhoods. Davis was willing to consider alternatives for seniors.
Bike paths and walkability: Woolley is an advocate of bike lanes (there are 105 car lanes and only 4 bike lanes). He said the world is changing and while cars will continue to dominate, young people are looking for alternative modes of transportation including bikes, Uber and Car2Go. Davis questioned whether spending $15 million on walkability was a wise investment; he’d freeze the development of bike lanes awaiting more information on their usage and costs. Charest would nix bike paths because “no one wants them” and Thomson said pedestrians and cyclists could share sidewalks if they were widened.
Karla Charest and Carter Thomson deserve credit for throwing their hats in the ring but it’s clear the only competition for Evan Woolley is Chris Davis.
Davis described Calgary as falling short of its potential. He asked us to send a message to people who think you need a Ph.D to run the city because “ordinary citizens” can do it just fine. The reference to ordinary citizens is disingenuous coming from a fellow with an LL.B.
Woolley said Calgary is ranked the 5th best city in the world by The Economist. (Woolley says its #1). He asked the fundamental question we all need to ask: What kind of city do we want to be?
Davis is focused on the status quo; Woolley is looking to the future.
Evan Woolley is the fourth kind of politician–a thoughtful visionary. Ward 8 couldn’t ask for anything more.