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Grill Candidates Who Knock on Your Door

Colin Craig

As we get closer to Calgary’s municipal election, don’t be surprised if a candidate asks your business to make a donation to their campaign or pops by your house to ask for your vote.

With that in mind, have you thought about what you might ask a candidate if they seek your support? Here are a few questions you might want to consider.

Let’s start with everyone’s favourite subject: property taxes. Since the recession took hold in 2015, there have been countless stories about Calgary businesses shutting down; many citing rising property taxes as a contributing factor.

If an incumbent councillor asks for your support, why not ask about their track record when it comes to voting on tax increases over the past few years? Have they been part of the problem – council deciding to increase spending and property taxes at more than double the rate of inflation? Or can they demonstrate that they opposed such reckless financial behaviour?

If the candidate is not an incumbent, you could ask if they would commit to keeping property tax increases at or below the rate of inflation. You could also probe their thoughts on the city’s finances overall. Do they think the city needs more taxing powers? Or do they understand city hall has a spending problem and needs to get its costs under control?

Speaking of the expenditure side of the ledger, a good question to ask candidates is: would you vote to reduce city salaries by five or 10 per cent? If he or she balks at the idea that’s a good indication they’re weak-kneed and just not up to the job.

Since the recession gripped Calgary, thousands of people in the city’s business sector have been laid off or received significant pay reductions. So far, city employees have been immune from such difficult decisions. It’s time to elect a council that has the fortitude to require city employees to feel the pinch too.

Another problem that needs to be addressed are the city’s golden pension plans. In short, the city’s defined benefit pension plans are hardly fair for taxpayers; they’re costly, they put tremendous risk on taxpayers and the plans are far too generous. Will the candidate you come into contact with commit to putting new employees (and council members themselves) into a far less costly pension plan (defined contribution)?

To understand why tackling this is a crucial activity, note that labour costs represented 53 per cent of the city’s expenses in 2016. Thus, it’s a spending category that’s too large to ignore.

Perhaps you might also consider asking local candidates if they would contract out city services to local businesses in order to reduce costs. For example, if a lawn-care company could cut the grass in your local park for a lower cost, why not hire them to do the work?

Finally, you could also ask local candidates about priority setting. Do they consider funding activities like public art a priority? Or would they behave like most households and halt such spending, instead focusing on true priorities while times are tough?

Those are just a few questions to consider asking local candidates this fall. Let the grilling begin!

Colin Craig is the interim Alberta director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.