Your questions to Mayor Nenshi, answered

Posted by: Kaitlyn Mason on February 27, 2017

A healthy relationship between City Council and our business community is vital, especially in challenging times. So when you, our members, had questions for Mayor Naheed Nenshi, we took them to the source. Together, we worked to get you his answers on some of the questions that are keeping you up at night.

Has the City looked at following the “open skies” policy of Dubai? Calgary could become the hub for people travelling coast to coast, both inside Canada and the United States. 

Mayor Nenshi says: “With the new international terminal at YYC, there is incredible opportunity to expand our international flights. Recently, we’ve seen the introduction of flights to Beijing and Mexico City. However, the City does not control the airport – it’s run by a non-profit organization – and an open skies policy would fall under the purview of the federal government. I strongly suggest advocating for this idea with your Member of Parliament.”

What is your plan to help companies attract young talent? How does Calgary compete with cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver to attract young, skilled workers? 

Mayor Nenshi says: “For the first five years I was in office, a large part of the work I did was based around talent attraction and retention. I would often travel to places and say ‘I’m here to steal your children.’ In fact, our economic development strategy has been based on building a city that attracts global talent on the premise that people attract jobs more than jobs attract people.

Over the past year or so, we’ve also been focused on attracting businesses to Calgary, but of course, talent attraction and retention is a huge part of bringing those businesses. This means investing significantly on quality-of-life issues like the arts, sport, recreation, inspiring public spaces and great public transit – factors that we know young people look for when deciding where to live, invest, and begin their careers.” 

How will the City Charters empower the City to make supportive decisions for Calgarians? Particularly businesses? 

Mayor Nenshi says: “The city charter conversation can be dry and a bit impenetrable, but it’s amongst the most important things that I’m working on. It’s about aligning decision-making authority with expertise and financial authority. So, for example, it should make cleaning up brownfield sites easier, and bring decision-making on industrial assessment into a fairer system.

And, if we get the fiscal framework right, we might be able to reduce our reliance on the unfair regressive property tax, which is a particularly lousy way to tax business. The ultimate goal is to foster prosperity for all Albertans, and to create efficiency in the delivery of government services.” 

It was not well reported how your speech in Vancouver regarding pipeline infrastructure was received. What feedback did you see or hear? What can Calgary do to send the right messages?

Mayor Nenshi says: “My speech in Vancouver was very well received. I was a bit surprised, to be honest. I was expecting a big uphill battle, but most people were not just open to my argument, but very sympathetic to it. I was reminded more than once that British Columbia joined Confederation specifically on the promise of a corridor to get their resources to market. Many people also told me that their political leadership doesn’t necessarily reflect their views.

One of the most interesting things I did on my day there was to take a boat trip of the port and the Burrard Inlet. This is a very busy port, and essential to the survival of the Canadian economy. They know what they are doing, and have over 3,000 vessel movements per year – from sugar to ethylene glycol to caustic soda and bitumen. The expansion and modernization of the TransMountain pipeline will increase tanker traffic from one per week to one per day, representing less than a 10% increase to the port’s traffic with a great deal of capacity remaining.

Even after the approval of the pipeline, we need to continue to get the facts out and continue to help all Canadians understand that Canadian energy brings prosperity to us all while stewarding our land, air, and water responsibly.” 

The CalgaryNEXT facility proposal seems to so do so much for our city, such as revitalizing the West Village, building our first fieldhouse, and modernizing our main event centre. Why do you not support this? 

Mayor Nenshi says: “The numbers for the West Village proposal just don’t work. The public cost is much too high and the benefit much too low. We estimate the full cost as $1.8 billion, almost all from taxpayer money. This would be the largest public investment in Calgary’s history, much higher than the West LRT, with nearly all of the financial benefit going to a for-profit corporation.

The research is very clear: investment in professional sport facilities almost never has a direct economic benefit. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest; certainly the city invests in things with social benefit rather than economic benefit every day. But as I have always said, public money must have public benefit. We continue our conversation on what might be possible: is there a different project that would require less taxpayer money and would have broader public return? I suspect such a model exists.” 

How can the City support diversification by aiding the creative economy?

Mayor Nenshi says: “The creative economy is one of the five diversification pillars in our current economic development strategy, and we continue to make it a major part of our work in attracting and retaining business. The most visible part of this is the opening in 2016 (finally!) of the Calgary Film Centre, which is doing great business in attracting film and TV production.

This isn’t just a nice-to-have, by the way, or just for bragging rights (though I never tire of saying that Calgary-filmed productions have won more Oscars, Emmys, and Golden Globes than those filmed in any other Canadian jurisdiction). One need only look at Vancouver to see how film and TV can support thousands of jobs and be a major part of the economy.” 

What is your advice for unemployed Calgarians? 

Mayor Nenshi says: “I know it’s tough and it can seem hopeless. I’ve been unemployed; my family went through long periods of unemployment and poverty while I was growing up. But please don’t lose heart or lose hope. Get out there every single day and sell yourself and your skills. Try to think of yourself in terms of your skills: You’re a reservoir engineer, but you’re also a highly trained scientist. This is a great time to consider starting a small business that allows you to share your skills internationally, from right here in Calgary.

There are many resources to help you. For example, Momentum can help you with the entrepreneurial skills you need to start a business and ATB has some great programs for small business, to name only two.

And if it gets just too tough, please remember you live in a community that cares about you and has a stake in you. You’re not alone. And you can call 211 24 hours a day to be connected to resources that can help you.”