Calgary Herald

UCP'S Calgary strategy all smoke and mirrors

We need a solid plan to fill downtown office buildings, writes Rachel Notley.

- Rachel Notley is the leader of the official Opposition NDP.

The empty towers dotting Calgary's skyline are an aching reminder of how hard our province has been hit by successive oil price crashes and the COVID-19 pandemic. Buildings once full of Alberta workers and businesses today sit vacant.

While there are no easy solutions, I was deeply concerned when last week — right after speaking to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce about his new budget — Finance Minister Travis Toews said refilling Calgary's downtown office towers isn't a provincial responsibi­lity.

He implied there would be no direct plan and stated the province “shouldn't be putting out a specific program” to help. In other words, it's someone else's problem.

Calgarians disagree. Their fury after hearing Toews dismiss this responsibi­lity no doubt prompted some soul-searching in the UCP cabinet and ultimately Doug Schweitzer's vague and scrambled call for consultati­ons in his column for the Calgary Herald.

Schweitzer talks about the corporate tax cut but doesn't mention that after it was passed, major companies like Encana (now Ovintiv) announced plans to pack up and move. He talks about economic diversific­ation and the opportunit­ies of emerging tech but seems to forget it was Toews who labelled economic diversific­ation a “luxury” and cancelled programs and tax incentives for tech companies that were creating jobs.

It's reasonable to be skeptical about how serious the UCP is about this work given that two cabinet ministers are clearly not on the same page. As well, their government is gutting municipal infrastruc­ture funding and support for affordable housing in this year's budget.

Here's what I know: If the Alberta government wants to address the hollowing out of our largest city's downtown core, a good start would be connecting the downtown to the rest of the city by building the Green Line Ctrain project. Their continued slow-walking of this project creates uncertaint­y around its progress. Along with that, it stalls the creation of 20,000 jobs in its tracks.

The UCP must stop stalling, and start building. More than that, there needs to be a comprehens­ive plan for downtown Calgary. We are running out of time.

The global economy is experienci­ng profound change, as workers, industry, investors and decision-makers all over the world grapple with the challenges of the pandemic and a changing climate. Calgary has the fundamenta­l strengths to thrive in this changing world, with a young, diverse, educated workforce and an innovative and entreprene­urial spirit.

But we need bold vision and bold action. That's why I announced in a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce in mid-january that our caucus will commit to working with the City of Calgary to develop a downtown strategy as a key economic policy of an NDP government.

We've already convened multiple meetings on this important project, led by

Joe Ceci, NDP municipal affairs critic and a former city councillor.

Our plan will focus on retaining and attracting people and businesses to the downtown core, diversifyi­ng Calgary's economy and making it an attractive place to live, work, learn and play. By doing so, we can make Calgary the most livable city in the world, built around a vibrant downtown.

This plan will come together in consultati­on with municipal leaders, small business owners, innovators, leading startups, post-secondary leaders, community groups, arts and culture organizati­ons, workers and every single Calgarian who wants a say. There are already numerous creative and thoughtful ideas being discussed — growing post-secondary downtown, investing in affordable housing, incentiviz­ing office retrofits, increasing connectivi­ty with the rest of the city, reimaginin­g arts, culture and green spaces to draw Calgarians to their hub — and much more.

But it won't happen without an intentiona­lly derived strategy that enjoys the support and participat­ion of the provincial government.

Calgary has been through difficult times before and bounced back every time.

I am confident it can do so once again. As we look to a future beyond the pandemic, we need to come together to create a vision of hope for Calgary that builds on our strengths. I invite you to share your insights and ideas with us at Albertasfu­

Together, we can restore Calgary's skyline to a potent image of economic energy.

I look forward to the work ahead.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada