What do Vancouver, Toronto and Saskatoon have in common? No, this isn’t a bad joke, unless, of course, you think “a more competitive municipal business tax environment than Calgary” is a punchline. The C.D. Howe Institute released its annual report card on business tax burdens in Canada’s major cities in December, and it’s official: Calgary’s competitiveness continues to decline.
Sure, we’re still better than most, but better than average isn’t a good fit for Calgary. We’re a city of builders, creators and innovators. We’re not just the “Heart of the New West,” we’re the entrepreneurial engine of Canada. Our potential is immense, but we need to stop sabotaging our future with short-sighted policies, especially with the provincial and federal governments already making life more difficult with new taxes and regulations.
As it is still early in the new year, I’d like to recommend three resolutions to get Calgary moving forward again.
- Let’s get competitive: Our current city council clearly has neither the expertise nor the experience to develop an effective plan to address Calgary’s waning competitiveness. There is no shame in this, as not everyone has a head for business. There are, however, many Calgarians who do, and city council needs to start seeking their input and guidance. These are individuals who understand what it takes to build a business and create jobs, and their expertise is desperately needed. While energy remains Calgary’s bread and butter, the city’s entrepreneurial talent extends to other sectors, so the effort needs to engage business people outside of the downtown core as well.
- Let’s get our finances in order: City council evidently isn’t concerned about asking Calgarians to pay more when they can least afford it. What it’s not willing to do is make any sacrifices of its own. On an adjusted per capita basis, Calgary’s municipal government spends half a billion dollars more annually than Edmonton’s does. City council needs to start doing what Calgary families and businesses do – exercise restraint today to secure a more prosperous tomorrow. We should begin by reviewing municipal costs across the board, including the salaries of municipal employees. There is tough but necessary work to be done.
- Let’s look to the bigger picture: Calgary is at a crossroads. For years, oil prices were high and exports were growing, so we could take growth for granted. But times have changed. As Calgarians look to the horizon, they’re increasingly apprehensive about what the future holds. Instead of addressing some of the issues underlying these fears, city council is increasingly finding itself mired in petty personality disputes. Our municipal representatives need to drop the silly games and start working together to develop a long-term vision for our city that leverages our strengths.
Calgary has one of the most dynamic, entrepreneurial and educated populations in the world. We have what we need to succeed. But the vision and the leadership to put the pieces together is lacking. The new year provides Calgary with an opportunity to realistically assess where we are, determine where we need to go, and figure out how to get there. As I said last month, the business community has a role to play. We understand better than most why Calgary is falling behind, and we have a responsibility to help get the city back on track.