Brent Alexander

Survey Responses:


Question 1.1:

Do you think municipal taxes should:

a) Reduce in absolute terms
b) Reduce in real terms (grow, but slower than inflation)
c) Reduce in relative terms (grow, but slower than inflation plus population growth)
d) Stay the same (grow, but only in line with inflation plus population growth)
e) Increase a bit (grow in line with the city’s Municipal Price Index)
f) Increase more (grow faster than the city’s Municipal Price Index)

 

Answer 1.1 [Choose One]:

d) Stay the same (grow, but only in line with inflation plus population growth)


Question 1.2:

Comments?

 

Answer/Comments 1.2:

I believe taxes should not grow faster than inflation and population growth, and aspire for reductions below these relative terms when at all possible. The 52% increase over the last 7 years is simply not sustainable. My goals, coincidently, are the same that have since been adopted by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.


Question 2.1:

Would you vote in favour of allocating any tax dollars or giving any subsidy towards a new stadium/arena?

 

Answer 2.1 [Yes/No Only]:

No.


Question 2.2:

If yes, how much and in what form would these taxes take (direct cash, land, subsidy, indirect, etc), and why do you support public dollars being directed towards a corporation?

 

Answer/Comments 2.2:

There is much interest in this issue. We certainly do not want to lose our NHL franchise to another city. At the same time, the city taking on a considerable financial risk to benefit a private organization is not a reasonable use of scarce civic financial resources. We all know the example of Edmonton and their recent new arena that had funding arrangements from both the City and the Province. It has been a hit – attracting many acts that are bypassing Calgary. The cities of Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto or Montreal are not mentioned, though their existing teams built their own arenas on their own dime – all to great financial success. From a fiscal management point of view, the latter options are far more appealing. I am not interested in taking on business risk for the benefit of private enterprise. There is no place for socialism for the rich. If the business case is there, the team will build their own arena. The city may contribute excess land if any is available and appropriate, but no monetary risk taking.


Question 3.1:

Recent research on Calgary’s City Council found that council spends nearly a quarter of its’ time meeting in private (in camera). Do you agree that this is too much time spent in private?

 

Answer 3.1 [Yes/No Only]:

Yes.


Question 3.2:

If so, what would you do to fix this? Which topics do you believe should be discussed behind closed doors and why?

 

Answer/Comments 3.2:

In camera meetings should be related to personnel issues and contractual discussions only – where privacy is paramount. Otherwise all meetings should be held in public.


Question 4.1:

From the $470,000 Blue Ring, to the $236,000 for a “Poop Palace”, and now another $500,000 for Bowfort Towers, council has consistently failed to engage with Calgarians about which public Art projects their tax dollars are spent on. Do you support continuing to use taxpayer dollars to fund art projects for the city?

 

Answer 4.1 [Yes/No Only]:

Yes. 


Question 4.2:

If yes, why do you think council and administration have repeatedly failed on this issue, and what guidelines should be used to ensure Calgarians are happy with the results in future?

 

Answer/Comments 4.2:

"I hope the City of Calgary learns from this." is one of the comments from a post shared by Adrian Stimson, a local Blackfoot artist, on Public Art and the Bowfort Towers controversy.

I suspect that was the sentiment that most Calgarians had after the Blue Ring (Traveling Light) was installed in 2013, but it is clear that the city has not learnt at all. The difference with this installation is the added indignity of extremely poorly thought out reference to the local Blackfoot culture (merely the number 4) while refusing to acknowledge the similarities to traditional burial scaffolding.

Calgarians are not against Public Art, just public art that has been done poorly, is badly situated, cannot be appreciated, contemplated or interacted with in a meaningful way. The question of how public art is chosen remains questionable, with much better transparency of the panel and its decision process to ensure full consideration of local, provincial and national artists. Lastly, the make up of the panel that choses public art must include at least one indigenous representative.

We must stop shaming citizens by accusing them of being anti-art troglodytes when issues like this come up. It is that type of divisive rhetoric that needs to be recognized for what it is - an attempt to prevent real change to a broken system by silencing opposition to the status quo. We need real change at City Hall. Ward 7 is a great place to start!


Question 5:

How can council support small businesses?

 

Answer 5:

By keeping taxes in check (see #1) and reducing red tape.

We must welcome new businesses to help Calgary diversify and strengthen our economy moving forward. One element is to reduce road blocks for new business from setting up shop in Calgary to begin with. This will also help existing business owners innovate at the same time.

There is necessary procedure and then there is red tape. It’s a subtle difference but not rocket science. Unfortunately, this has been lost on the current administration at City Hall. Calgary is viewed by many as the most bureaucratic prairie city to set up business.

I will recommend the following at City Council:

 

Create a Task Force which will route out bureaucratic red tape and simplify procedures.

Ensure Majority of Task Force to include reps from Calgary Chamber of Commerce, various Business Associations and Calgary Economic Development.

Set measurable specific time limits for the processing of permits and license applications.

Apply the principals of consistency and transparency in the enforcement of regulations.

Coordinate the operations of different departments to eliminate inefficiencies, duplication and waste.

Meet regularly with Task Force to monitor the progress. Every group must have their feet held to the fire to ensure progress is made. Oversight is a key component.

 

The vibrancy of a growing city is measured in part by its ability to attract new and retain existing businesses. Eliminating unnecessary red tape and making it easy for businesses to set up shop in Calgary is essential to diversify our economy. The more bureaucratic a city, the more likely companies will give it a pass when deciding where to set up shop. If Calgary is to thrive as a healthy community and services are to reach an increasing populace without adding to your tax burden, then red tape must go!


Question 6.1:

Do you support the current plan for construction of the Green Line?

 

Answer 6.1 [Yes/No Only]:

Yes.


Question 6.2:

The construction of the Green Line was approved based on a cost-benefit analysis that assumed the project would be completed two years earlier than now projected, and at a lower construction cost for the entire line than is now estimated for half of the line. If the costs increase again or the project is further delayed, would you continue to support it, and why?

 

Answer/Comment 6.2:

Everyone expects and deserves that their tax dollars are being spent wisely and prudently to get maximum benefit for each dollar sent to City Hall. Financial management must be seen to be at the heart of every decision made by Calgary City Council. Poor management comes in many shapes and sizes – the largest relating to poor long term planning and oversight. To maximize benefit we must engage in effective planning and ensure oversight is complete and extensive.

Green Line LRT Project – an example

In two years, the proposed 46 km, 28 station Green Line LRT serving the far southeast to the far north of Calgary has been truncated to run 20 kms with 14 stations – ending at 16th Ave N and Shepard in the south. The busiest transit corridor in all of Calgary (Centre St North) has been lopped off and South Campus – one of the biggest drivers of car traffic in the SE, has been ignored.

This could have been avoided with better oversight and long term planning:

 

1) Council failed to plan for the long term. Back in 2006 (including Ward 7 incumbent), decided to run the northern leg of the Green Line up Nose Creek and not service the inner city communities of Ward 7. That decision prevented any planning along Centre Street, including set backs for new developments that have since been built, or the purchase of properties along the route that may be required.

2) Key costs ignored: Council did not take into account interest costs to finance its $1.5B portion of the project over 30 years.

3) Most expensive options chosen: 4 k tunnel that includes tunnelling under Bow River, is more expensive by a factor of 3, it also prevents placing a station in Crescent Heights.

 

“As we know, council’s design decisions on this have not tended toward the cheaper design,” Nenshi said.

 

Description: Between July 2015 and the Q1 2017, the Green Line LRT project was described as a $4.5-$5 billion capital project to deliver a 46 km, 28 station LRT from 160 Avenue N to Seton. In May 2017, Council, on the basis of City Transportation staff recommendations (2) approved (3) a “Stage 1” plan based on a Class 3 capital estimate of $4.65 Billion, at a much reduced, 20 km track -14 station scope. Transportation staff explained the change in scope as the result of public engagement, a full analysis of land requirements, and the recommendation for underground stations in the Centre City.

Issue: In approving the staged approach, the only significant risk mitigated seems to be (2) the land acquisition costs involved in the 26km of LRT track deferred from the original 2015 proposal. Given that the current Class 3 capital cost is considered a “Preliminary” estimate with a -30% to +50% cost range at a 10-40% definition level, this exposes the City taxpayers to significant remaining risk, given that the stage 1 plan includes an ambitious number of “firsts”, including a 4 km city centre tunnel and 8 bridges.

Analysis: In the July 2015 transportation planning audit (1), the Green Line program was one of three projects audited for procedure, criteria, integrity of data and communication to Council in the prioritization of transportation projects. The audit found “missing elements for an effective prioritization process” and recommended four major changes, namely:

 

1) Create a portfolio management plan for projects.

2) Requires a cost-benefit analysis to support value for money

3) Prioritization should include operating cost and GHG criteria.

4) Prioritization criteria for cost-benefit analysis should be quantitative not qualitative.

 

Conclusion: It is clear that politicians at all three levels (municipal, provincial and federal) have made rash “infrastructure” and “sustainability” investments to counter economic hard times in the run up to re-election (e.g. the July 2015 Conservative Federal announcement less than a month before issuing the federal election writ) The result, in combination with a failure by city council to have a workable long term plan, heed audit findings of process shortcomings in communication, cost-benefit and portfolio management of transportation projects significantly increases the risk of the council running into time and cost over-runs, particularly given the size and complexity of even the current Stage 1 project. Both Federal and Provincial levels of government have committed to contributions of $1.53 billion, leaving City of Calgary to fund the remaining $1.5 billion. But it is not clear who will pick up any cost overrun but it is almost certainly the City (funding and financing scenarios have been deemed confidential (3)).

In Ward 7 council election, the Green Line issue demonstrates the vital need for comprehensive financial management at City council that will face increased risk of not meeting its financial and delivery promises for this major infrastructure project. As Ward 7 candidates, only Brent Alexander has the work, community and life experience to improve management of major projects and provide transparency when making investment decisions under pressure. Ward 7 needs someone who understands the need for continued infrastructure investment yet concerned about managing your tax dollars wisely – particularly in this economically challenging time.


Question 7.1:

In July, City Council voted against a motion to hold a referendum/plebiscite on whether Calgary should bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics bid. Do you support holding a referendum / plebiscite on whether Calgary should bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics bid?

 

Answer 7.1 [Yes/No Only]:

No.


Question 7.2:

Why do you support/oppose a public vote? Should the results of a vote should be binding?

 

Answer/Comment 7.2:

The bid for a future Winter Olympics is a constant topic of discussion. Based on current information available, I would vote no. While the current report available to the public indicates it would be possible for Calgary to host the Olympics, it does not weigh the financial commitments required against the benefits of hosting the games. The latter can be many, as we experienced to the lead up, during and after the 1988 Olympics. But we also know the costs associated with the Olympics have ballooned and the sharing of the financial risks by the IOC has not been demonstrated. Nostalgia for ’88 and hatred of the IOC are terrible ways to make decisions. There is additional information being gathered to flesh out the full financial implications and long term benefits to Calgary. I remain open to Calgary hosting the Olympics if the additional information gathered makes a convincing case, but at this time, my vote would remain “No”.

Plebiscites are for when councillors refuse to do their job or the public simply doesn’t trust them. Demand more of your councillors and there will be no need to engage in costly plebiscites.