This article originally appeared in the Western Standard.
One of the biggest challenges for an authoritarian regime is that free-thinking people keep trying to escape them. This is a challenge for socialism as people and capital flee excessive taxation and controls imposed upon them. Around the Soviet bloc, the iron curtain kept its people slaves, while Cuba used its natural sea barrier in hopes of keeping its citizens from fleeing.
Calgary City Hall can’t build walls, so it has resorted to using the Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) to attempt to strangle outward migration of people and capital from the city.
With dreams of urban density and a decade in power, Mayor Naheed Nenshi has ushered in an urban ghost town in Calgary’s core while industrial development has migrated to neighbouring counties. The primary driver is their desire to escape the high taxes and regulations of the city. Bedroom communities have been flourishing as citizens flock to neighborhoods with space and yards while industrial interests from Amazon to Lowes have set up shop outside of Calgary’s boundaries. Companies and people are voting with their feet and wallets, undercutting Nenshi’s efforts.
It appears increasingly unlikely that Nenshi will seek re-election. He is desperately hoping to entrench the innocuous-sounding “Guidebook for Great Communities” within city policy as one of his final acts. The document calls for the imposition of centralized planning and large increases in urban density. Calgary’s City Council is currently in the midst of some very heated debates as they hope to rush this document into policy before citizens can realize what it is all about.
The “Guidebook for Great Communities” is sure to be a failure if people are able to flee it. Density-obsessed city planners and council members know full well that citizens will not take part in this sort of planning unless they are forced to. That is why there is such a mad rush to push this document through city council. That is where the CMRB comes in.
The CMRB was a creation of Rachel Notley’s NDP government in 2018 at the behest of Mayor Nenshi. It ostensibly was to be a cooperative organization formed in order to foster cooperation between the City of Calgary and neighbouring municipalities as they grow. Rural municipalities quickly discovered that this organization was formed in such a way that it was essentially an arm of Calgary City Hall. Decisions of the board are binding and are subject to a voting method that favours urban municipalities. The makeup of the board is seven urban members to three rural, and motions need three-fourths of the population represented in order to pass. The city of Calgary population dwarfs the population of every neighboring county combined, thus they are granted total domination of this board. Counties may have a voice on the board, but their vote means nothing.
The CMRB under the advisement of Calgary city counsellor and aspiring urban planner Gian-Carlo Carra spent $1.2 million on developing a growth plan and contracted the American firm HDR Calthorpe. The growth plan – which is to be approved on June 1 – will strip the independence of municipalities in their development decisions and will impose density regulations much like the City of Calgary’s. Any large, proposed developments will be subject to the approval of the CMRB which is of course controlled by the City of Calgary. This will bring about a development and investment chill in the counties bordering Calgary. And that is of course the intent of the board.
Rather than address why citizens and businesses seek to escape the taxation and regulations of the City of Calgary, the mayor and city planners have chosen to work to try and block the escape. If there is no longer any advantage to relocating outside of the city of Calgary, it is the hope of density ideologues that people and companies will simply resign themselves to the inevitable and stay within the city. This is the same mentality that the mayor and council used to try and stop people from using personal vehicles. They felt that if they kept parking rates high enough and made driving miserable enough through road closures and bike tracks, that people would simply give up their cars and get on the bus. Empty buses and a ghostly downtown show how well that worked out.
This development plan won’t drive more business into Calgary. What this plan will do is drive investment out of Alberta altogether. These kind of actions make investors and migrants seek more favourable environments, and if it means leaving the province, they will do so. We can’t afford plans like this as we enter a period of recovery from government-imposed pandemic restrictions.
There is still time to stop this plan in its tracks. Mayoral aspirant Jyoti Gondek has been pushing for the imposition of this plan and Transportation Minister Ric McIver didn’t mince words in a statement he made to Global News in response to her when he said: “My advice is that Coun. Gondek get support within her own council and among other councils within the region before bringing this to the province”.
Foothills County Reeve Suzanne Oel has issued a call to action for county citizens and neighboring counties to oppose the imposition of this plan. This is a rare move and it demonstrates just how desperate the position of municipal counties is right now. Rural elected representatives are powerless to oppose or even modify this plan due to the urban slant built into the CMRB structure by the Notley government and can now only appeal to the provincial government in hopes that they intervene.
Like many other Calgarians, I moved to the outskirts of the city in order to escape urban density and the regulations imposed by Calgary’s city council. If this planning document from the CMRB is imposed, I will once again be governed by the City of Calgary. At least when I lived in the city, I could vote for the mayor and my local council member. Under this plan, I will be under their thumb and won’t even have the remedy of a vote.
If the Kenney UCP wants to shore up their rural support, they will do themselves a great deal of good by dissolving the CMRB entirely. If we are left at the whim of Calgary’s mayor and council due to UCP inaction on this file, many voters will view this as an unforgivable error. Let’s hope that the provincial government acts on this matter while they still can.