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MORGAN: Calgary Economic Development Corp. must go

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How would you like it if the government doubled taxes over a single year on your struggling business and then used those funds to subsidize your competitors? This is what the City of Calgary has been doing for years as they have raised business property taxes by as much as 400 per cent in some cases while tossing $100 million to Calgary Economic Development (CED) to use as a corporate welfare fund to try and draw new businesses to the city. 

Business organizations, economists and taxpayer groups have been warning Calgary city council for decades that their high-spending habits coupled with a dependence on business taxation are unsustainable. Through a combination of cowardice, terrible leadership and outright incompetence, city council kicked this can down the road until it erupted into a business tax catastrophe last spring.

Local business owner, Kelly Doody, organized a rally of Calgary entrepreneurs outside of Calgary city hall last June. Hundreds attended and demanded answers. 

In a panic, council members scrambled to find a solution. Ten of them brought forward a plan which called for $131 million to come from savings and modest spending cuts in order to provide short term tax relief to business owners. Mayor Nenshi, of course, opposed this plan, which was admittedly a Band-Aid solution covering a bigger problem.

Kelly Doody is again speaking up. Her business appealed the absurd tax increase imposed upon it by city hall – and won. That took four months of effort, however, and she still saw a large tax increase to add to a $7,000 legal bill. This appeal also meant that her business got no part of the one-time tax relief package. 

The City of Calgary hits businesses at a property tax rate five times higher than residential rates. For decades, city councils have been spoiled by energy companies in downtown Calgary who have essentially been overpaying in taxes. With the flight of these energy companies, we are left with a gross spending problem and a tax imbalance neither of which the current Mayor nor city council have the courage to deal with.

Calgay Mayor Naheed Nenshi (source: Wiki Commons)

Spending cuts won’t be easy, but there is one large piece of low hanging fruit that the city can pluck to save money: the pool of patronage and waste is called Calgary Economic Development.

In a huge slap in the face to struggling Calgary businesses, Calgary city hall gave $100 million dollars to CED so that they may offer corporate welfare to outside investors who may choose to locate their enterprises in Calgary. What a feeling it must be to have to lay off employees in order to pay tax increases only to have the city dole out those funds to other businesses, often competitors.

Calgary Economic Development is not a business organization. They are simply a branch of Calgary city hall and their record in guiding or encouraging economic development in Calgary is nothing less than abysmal. CED was formed in 1999 and under its watch we have seen Calgary’s downtown business core reach a vacancy rate of nearly 30 per cent. I understand that this was due to a flight of energy capital from the province, but CED’s mandate for the last 20 years has been to diversify the city economy so that precisely such an event doesn’t happen. They failed.

Let’s look at Mary Moran who was appointed to lead Calgary Economic Development. You may remember her name from when she took a 5-month leave from CED for a salary of nearly $300,000 per year in order to lead the $30 million dollar Calgary Olympic Bidco to a crushing rejection at the hands of tired Calgary taxpayers in last year’s plebiscite. While Moran was on leave to promote Nenshi’s Olympic vanity project, Steve Allen sat at the head of CED. Allan’s name may sound familiar as he is currently immersed in a nepotism scandal where he appears to have handed a nearly million-dollar sole-sourced contract to a law firm where his son is a partner only 11 days after having been appointed to head a commission by Jason Kenney.

There is a sub-industry of government organizations where the well-connected find themselves appointed to cushy six-figure jobs without any real accountability. Calgary Economic Development is one of those organizations. It seems the most noteworthy effort of Moran in recent years was the campaign to promote Calgary in Seattle in hopes of drawing Amazon to the city by putting out cute sidewalk chalk ads. It failed, of course, but some folks had a fun expense-paid trip to Seattle where they could play with chalk, so perhaps it was worth it.

The great travel opportunities are one of the best benefits of being appointed to a Calgary Economic Development role. In their annual statement – which shares next to nothing on how they spend their millions in tax dollars – they do like to brag about all the places they have flown to in order to ineffectually draw enterprise to Calgary.

Hell, CED even appointed Jason Ribeiro to a “Director of Strategy” role within their organization. Ribeiro dedicated months to act as a social media attack dog for the failed Olympic bid last year. He constantly liked to point out how he was simply a volunteer. It looks like his volunteer work led to a nice position in the long run though. It can be lucrative doing side-gigs for folks such as Ms. Moran.

It is tough digging through the City of Calgary documents to figure out just how much Calgary Economic Development costs and what they do with that money. They do spend well over $5 million in salaries. On top of that, they spend over $7.5 million on contracted services.

One expense that stood out to me is that the $326,000 spent on interest charges in 2017.

As of 2017, Calgary Economic Development was carrying $12 million in debt. Already receiving tens of millions in tax dollars, why are they borrowing money?

Calgary is a city with a reputation for beating up on its businesses with massive tax increases while wasting the money gathered from these tax grabs. No cute chalk drawings on sidewalks or personal delivery of flashy brochures to nice international destinations by Calgary Economic Development folks will counter that reputation.

To draw diverse enterprise and investment to Calgary, the city needs to demonstrate stability and a reasonable tax regime. Right now Calgary is demonstrating neither. Who on earth would want to set up shop in a city that punishes its local businesses as Calgary does?

There are countless areas where the city can find efficiency and cut spending in order to provide tax relief to local businesses. In getting rid of Calgary Economic Development, the city can save tens of millions while ridding itself of an organization that uses tax dollars to create competitors to existing local businesses that are struggling to simply remain in existence. CED hasn’t yet frittered away the entire $100 million tax dollars they were given. Take what’s left back from them and apply it to immediate tax relief for businesses.Calgary needs a whole new culture and attitude along with spending and tax cuts. The city needs to look at its existing businesses as assets to be protected rather than tax cows to be milked in order to feed their myriad of wasteful organizations such as Calgary Economic Development. 

Opinion

WAGNER: 20 years ago today, Kenney was Stockwell Day’s right hand man in purging caucus rebels

On May 15, 2001, Stockwell Day began expelling MPs wanting leadership change from his caucus with the help of Jason Kenney.

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A conservative party leader fails to address the concerns of his caucus. The neglected caucus members become disgruntled and openly revolt against the leader, leading to some being expelled from the caucus. 

It’s the UCP in 2021. It’s also the Canadian Alliance in 2001. 

In fact, the Canadian Alliance caucus suspensions began on May 15, 2001, twenty years ago today. It was at that time that eight Alliance MPs publicly called for party leader Stockwell Day to resign, provoking a crackdown.

There are clear parallels between these two conservative parties experiencing similar difficulties in the middle of May. But perhaps the strangest common factor of all is Jason Kenney. In 2001, Kenney was an Alliance MP and a key Day loyalist who supported the expulsion of the dissidents. That is to say, this is not his first caucus rodeo. 

The Canadian Alliance was the successor of the Reform Party of Canada, formed in 2000 as an unsuccessful attempt to “unite the right” at the federal level. Former Alberta Finance Minister Stockwell Day won the leadership of the new party and led it into the November 2000 federal election. However, the new party did not achieve its much hoped-for electoral breakthrough in Ontario, and Day was blamed for the poor result.

Shortly thereafter, Day was involved in a series of missteps and controversies – such as falsely accusing a judge of being in a conflict of interest, and denying he met with an undercover agent after first affirming that he had met with him – that were embarrassing to the party and undermined his credibility as leader. 

By April 2001, the Alliance was polling at 13% nationally, behind Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives at 15%, and well behind Jean Chretien’s Liberals. This was embarrassing and clearly undermined the effort to unite-the-right behind the Alliance. 

Nevertheless, Day demanded strict loyalty from his MPs. As Preston Manning recounts in his book Think Big, “On several occasions – at internal meetings in February and March 2001 – when requesting personal loyalty from his caucus officers and key staff, Stockwell had emphasized the point by saying: ‘If I kill my grandmother with an axe, I want you to stand up and say she had it coming.’” 

By May, however, much of the Alliance caucus had lost confidence in Day, and MP Art Hanger publicly called for Day to resign as leader. He was suspended from the caucus, followed shortly by MP Gary Lunn, who agreed with Hanger.

Then, on May 15, eight MPs issued a joint statement calling on Day to resign and were then suspended from caucus. Deborah Grey, the first-ever elected Reform Party MP wrote of that group in her book Never Retreat, Never Explain, Never Apologize: “They were an impressive bunch. Among them were several members of the [Reform Party] Class of 1993. One was Jay Hill (Peace River-Prince George), who had run in the 1988 election and was as faithful to the Reform cause as anyone I have ever met.” That is the same Jay Hill who currently leads the Maverick Party.

These “dissidents” would later be joined by other disgruntled Alliance MPs, and form the Democratic Representative Caucus (DRC). 

Day eventually resigned and then lost the subsequent leadership campaign to Stephen Harper in March 2002. By that time, support for the Alliance was down to 7% in a Gallup poll. The leadership controversy had led to a total meltdown for the party.

During this period of leadership crisis in the Alliance, Jason Kenney was a chief lieutenant to Stockwell Day and supported ousting the dissident MPs. He wasn’t watching from the sidelines. Now, exactly twenty years later, Kenney is once again at the centre of a full-scale caucus revolt. Did he not learn from that initial experience the best practices for caucus management? Apparently not.

As mentioned, the first Alliance MPs suspended from caucus were soon followed by others. In comments to the Calgary Herald, recently expelled MLA Drew Barnes mentioned that some discontented MLAs remain within the UCP caucus and said, “I think as long as the premier doesn’t accept responsibly for how low the UCP has become in the polls, how low his popularity is, that that may embolden some people to speak up.” That is, the caucus revolt may not be over yet. 

Will the UCP undergo a continual erosion of support for its leader, like the Canadian Alliance experienced twenty years ago? Is there another Stephen Harper on the horizon who could take the reigns and restore the party to health in time for the next provincial election? Who in the UCP caucus is playing 2001 Jason Kenney to Stockwell Day for 2021 Jason Kenney?

The beneficiaries of the current internal discord in the UCP are the Wildrose Independence Party and Rachel Notley’s NDP. Many of those disappointed with the UCP are likely to move towards Wildrose, building on its current growth. The party might even pick up one or more former UCP MLAs, giving it a presence in the legislature and a more prominent provincial voice. 

On the down side, the NDP is leading in the polls. Could the unthinkable occur? A second NDP government? For many Albertans, their blood runs cold at the thought. As these possibilities reveal, the current turmoil in the UCP is not just about the future of one party and its leader, but about the future of the province itself.

Michael Wagner is a Columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

TULK: Canada’s leaders hid behind bureaucrats when they should have led

“The erosion in trust continued and continues with ever changing restrictions many with dubious and everchanging benchmarks.”

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As the Battle of France opened and Winston Churchill was sworn in as prime minister, he told the House of Commons and the people of the British Empire, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.” 

He did not then turn the lectern over to the deputy minister of war. 

The struggle of the Second World War was a very different conflict, but it bears resemblance in a few respects: it’s global scale and its economic devastation. But it is strikingly different in others, particularly how the politicians managed and worked with their government bureaucracies.

Once the war truly became global with the Battle of France and in north Africa, the political leaders came to the fore and the bureaucrats stayed in the background. Churchill consulted with industrialists like Beaverbrooke on the mobilization of the British economy; Roosevelt looked to the likes of Ford and Westinghouse to build the military horn of plenty that created such decisive devices as the Higgins boat and the atomic bomb. The response of the private sector and the people in it borders on the miraculous. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the overwhelming majority of politicians have pushed the health bureaucrats to the fore. They let the infectious diseases specialists not only command the podium, but to have a monopoly on decision making. Seldom did one see a bureaucrat whose expertise was mental illness — or bankruptcy or education — speak of the ancillary impacts of the government’s response to the coronavirus. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw never campaigned for office. She never received a vote from a single Albertan. Nor has she ever voted on a bill in the legislature. It’s one thing to listen to the bureaucrats during a crisis; it’s another to hide behind them and surrender decision making to them. 

Consider the outcomes in this crisis. 

Where the bureaucracy has been given the job, it has generally failed miserably – from communicating the situation, to securing the border, to tracking those infected, to procuring enough vaccines. This should hardly be surprising. Bureaucracy is designed to administer, not to innovate. It is designed to follow orders, not to lead. 

Bureaucracy is fundamentally not accountable in any substantive way; they will have jobs for years to come, while many citizens will have lost their livelihoods, and many politicians their careers due, at least in part, to bureaucrats failing. 

Where the private sector has dominion, combating COVID-19 has been significantly more successful. Fittingly, just saying some of the brand names suffices as proof: Zoom, Amazon, Pfizer, Moderna, Skip-the-Dishes. They, and many others, achieved heroic, hugely beneficial, world-changing feats; all in the name of the despised profit motive. 

Just imagine if Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and the UCP had contracted a logistics companies to increase our hospital and ICU bed capacities, rather than leave it to the bureaucrats. 

And it isn’t just sloth and confusion the government bureaucracies excelled at – it showed what an isolated and smug elite much of it is. 

It did this by showing in the light of day that they had no trust in Albertans to behave like responsible citizens. Most of its dictates have all involved limited basic human freedoms. 

It lied to us, or at the very least, spread misinformation with little effort to correct the record. When those in the health bureaucracy knew well COVID-19 spread almost exclusively via airborne transmission – that masks may be effective – they told citizens they did no good whatsoever. They did not trust us to not run out and hoard the masks that were in stock. 

Had the health bureaucrats respected the people and been upfront with the need to not hoard – to leave the N19 quality masks for the healthcare workers – the vast majority would have complied and found other ways to mask.

Only once the shortage of personal protective equipment passed did Dr. Theresa Tam flip-flop and advice people wear a mask. 

Once this – let’s call it a falsehood – was exposed, their lack of trust in the people was reciprocated in manifold ways – most conspicuously in unlawful gatherings, but also in possibly the far more serious form of resistance and flat-out refusal to get vaccinated. 

Still, the erosion in trust continued and continues with ever changing restrictions many with dubious and ever changing benchmarks. 

Just as the success of Zoom and its clones and other private creations will have long lasting benefits, the damage to the trust in government — both the bureaucracy and the politicians who abandoned their command of it — will possibly last for generations. Certainly, long enough to greatly complicate things when the next crisis hits.

Gord Tulk is a Columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

SLOBODIAN: No call yet from drive-by activist Fonda after pipeline protest

Drive-by activists tend to perform before the cameras, then scurry away, ignoring their impact on the lives and livelihoods they sanctimoniously mess with.

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Hanoi Jane is missing in action.

Weeks have passed since Stephen Buffalo, president and CEO of the Indian Resource Council (IRC), invited actress/activist Jane Fonda to partake in a “respectful discussion” about Alberta’s oil sands industry.

Fonda, contemptuously dubbed Hanoi Jane due to her loathsome activism during the Vietnam war, still hasn’t called back.

Not surprising. Drive-by activists tend to perform before the cameras, then scurry away, ignoring their impact on the lives and livelihoods they sanctimoniously mess with.

Buffalo’s invitation came on the heels of another one of Fonda’s one-star rating activism performances. She was in Minnesota on March 15 to protest the Line 3 oil pipeline replacement.

“We were driving down the highway and we saw this, we saw the pipeline that they want to lay under the headwaters of the Mississippi,” said Fonda referring to an Enbridge Energy sign, in a video posted to Twitter.

Actress Jane Fonda at pipeline protest

“That company Enbridge, it’s a foreign company. It’s bringing oil from Canada, tar sands oil, the worst,” said Fonda, heroically vowing to “try to stop it.”

It was a bit confusing. She was driving by and stumbled onto her favourite thing to protest? That would be the oil and gas industry.

Why was she even in the neighbourhood? Her mansions are in California, New Mexico and Georgia.

And wouldn’t a high-profile activist insist on a mandatory hefty fee before leaping out of a vehicle to get her boots dirty on a remote road in a faraway state?

Fortunately, Fonda cleared up the confusion on Instagram, stating “friends” with the Ojibwe Water Protectors invited her to “join them in the fight to stop Line 3.”

Her “friends” have the right to do that. Fonda doesn’t the right to disrespectfully ignore Buffalo, who represents so many First Nations in Canada.

Line 3, which runs from Alberta through Minnesota to Wisconsin, is being protested by American indigenous and climate groups claiming it harms the environment. Supporters say it’s environmentally safe and good for the economy.

Fonda apparently doesn’t want to bother with hearing both sides.

This column isn’t about determining whether the pipeline’s good or bad. It’s about Fonda poking her nose where it doesn’t belong. Again.

It’s impossible to look at that woman without remembering her perched on an antiaircraft gun – used to shoot down American helicopters – while surrounded by Viet Cong soldiers when she visited Hanoi in 1972 to protest the Vietnam war.

More than 58,000 U.S. and hundreds of Canadian soldiers were killed in North Vietnam. Those who returned, many without limbs, many surviving brutal torture by the Viet Cong, were spat on and discriminated by an American public that activists like Fonda worked into a hateful frenzy.

Fonda told America the Viet Cong were the victims and didn’t use torture tactics, that U.S. soldiers and government were liars.

But if the Viet Cong did resort to torture, she reasoned, it was justified.

“These men were bombing and staffing and Napalming the country,” she said of her fellow Americans.

“If a prisoner tried to escape, it’s quite understandable that he would probably be beaten and tortured,” she said, according to a 1973 Associated Press story.

Decades later Vietnam vets remain tormented by the invisible wounds of PTSD, because of the hellish war many were drafted to fight in and the hatred, fueled by Fonda, unleashed on them at home.

And who can forget Fonda’s helicopter landing in Fort McMurray in 2017? She emerged to lecture people – still reeling from their homes and businesses being destroyed by wildfires – about massive open-pit bitumen mines.

Fonda has zero credibility.

Nonetheless, Buffalo, who is based on the Tsuut’ina Nation near Calgary, was remarkably cordial and restrained when he invited her to chat.

Fonda may not care about some of the lives she impacts.

But Buffalo does.

The IRC advocates on behalf of 147 oil and gas producing Canadian First Nations.

“I see you are in Minnesota on Line 3 calling our oil sands the worst,” said Buffalo in a message to Fonda. “I’d like to invite you to join my colleagues and I on a Zoom call to give you the real story about great things happening in Northern Alberta.”

Buffalo noted that the energy sector is critical to First Nations economic and social development.

“As people closest to the land we have an input into the environmental stewardship which we are very proud of. Our communities have had concerns in the past. But we’re working with industry to develop solutions to protect the environment while growing our economy,” he said.

“I hope you’ll join me in respectful discussions to answer any questions you might have. Let’s have a conversation based on facts, not stereotypes based on dogmas and ideology.”

To be fair, maybe Hanoi Jane’s so anxious to hear Buffalo’s side she planned to visit rather than call. Maybe that big jet that carts her around needs to fuel up. Maybe she’s stuck in some long lineup caused by the severe gas shortages in the U.S. because of the ransomware attack on Colonial pipeline.

Yeah, pipelines – who needs them!

Linda Slobodian is the Manitoba Political Columnist for the Western Standard

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