Wednesday, November 21, 2007

And ... they made a mistake

Naheed said on QR this morning that it's rare that Council makes a decision that is so unambiguously wrong. But, they've gone and done it, so where should we focus now? BRT to MRC? The spur line to the airport? Or...?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Time for a better transit plan

Naheed's op-ed in today's Herald talks about the need to think much more about transit. It will be interesting to see what Council decides to do.

Friday, November 9, 2007

More on transit

The lead editorial in yesterday's Herald both took issue with our stance that the transit decision was too hasty and agreed with us on the details. While we think our concern is about more than details, it was an interesting attempt to square the circle.

We'll post more details on transit -- and a couple of very interesting ideas on how to move forward -- over the next few days, but would love your thoughts on this. As it now stands, it's starting to look like the best thing Council could do is cancel the useless NW extension to Tuscany and start thinking about an airport spur line or really interesting dedicated busways (e.g. on 14th St SW) with that money.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Wrong step on day one?

Naheed's quoted extensively in today's Herald about Council's decision to fund LRT lines. As a huge proponent of transit, why's he so grumpy? Read here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

$1.3 billion is worth thinking about

Today, City Council is debating in an emergency meeting whether to fund two of the Mayor's campaign promises -- recreation centres and an investment in LRT expansion. While no one is a bigger proponent of better transit than we are, we are deeply concerned that these investments are going forward in the absence of a real strategic plan for transit. We strongly believe that stopping for six months to think about what kind of a transit network this city needs is the right way to go, and we have suggested as much to Council members. Let's see what they do...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Where do we go from here?

More than the opening line to a song added to Evita for the Madonna movie, it's also the sentiment many of us are feeling right now.

The Campaign had a tremendous election season, and now we need to think about how best to achieve change going forward. A couple of announcements soon, but also a preview of our mindset in today's Herald.

Monday, October 15, 2007

First thoughts

Four new faces on Council. Four! Three incumbents have gone down, and all of our endorsements have done really well. Still a nailbiter in Ward 3 -- if George can pull it out, we will have an amazing Council. Even if Jim Stevenson does, we'll still have an amazing Council. Our heartiest congratulations to endorsee Brian Pincott, the new alderman for Ward 11, and John Mar, our endorsee in Ward 8. And, for those of you looking north, one of the best candidates anywhere, Don Iveson, knocked off an incumbent in Ward 5. It's a new Alberta, folks!

And let's not forget Jennifer Banks. She held a 25-year alderman to 56% of the vote, and she will be the next Alderman in Ward 1 if she wants to be. She has a lot to be proud of.

It's the big day!

Polls open from 10 am to 8 pm. Get out there! Visit to find out where to vote!

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Today's Herald op-ed starts to articulate the question, "what's next?" A quick look back and look forward follows...

We've had a long election run -- lots of media (check out our very first mention in the Calgary Sun), thousands of Calgarians checking in, even some comments on this blog (which never happens, despite the hundreds of readers!). There's still more to come -- a couple more articles in the Herald, Chima will be on the Eyeopener on election morning, Naheed will be on the CBC Radio election night panel, Chima will be back on Wild Rose Forum on Tuesday.

While all of this has been fun (really!), what's more important is the sense that this has been a remarkable campaign in moving the issues forward. As Naheed argues in the Herald piece, the conversation feels different than it did a month ago. Suddenly, the question is not whether to legalize secondary suites, but how to do it. The question of the West LRT alignment is very much on the table, as is service to Mount Royal College (want to bet we see a BRT to the college next fall?). And, optimistically, we'll see something, anything, on campaign finance reform this year.

We're going to keep up the pressure, regardless of who is on Council. Please get out and vote on Monday. We'd love it if you voted for our endorsements, but vote regardless.

Oh, and read this. We'll be discussing this article a lot more after the election, but Chris Koentges has created the single best thing ever written on what it means to be Calgarian and how we can all create a Better Calgary.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mayoralty Forum

Click below for our take on the most shocking moment of the election so far.

Today, the Mount Royal College Students Association and CBC hosted a Mayoralty Debate where all nine candidates for mayor attended. At these debates, you never really know what's going to happen and there's always a chance that someone will deliver a knockout punch, which will grab media headlines. There was no knockout punch, but David Bertram deserves kudos for standing up to intolerance.

To quickly recap, a member of the audience complained that the Tourism Calgary, an agency partially funded by the city, had promoted Calgary as a friendly destination for gay and lesbian tourists prior to the North American Outgames, which were held in Calgary earlier this year. The Mayor, to our astonishment, did not defend Tourism Calgary, but went to great pains to distance himself from their actions (i.e. advertising to the gay community). In fact, he actually said that if the decision were up to him, he would not have ran the same advertisement. David Bertram, on the other hand, spoke passionately about diversity and the positive economic impact that reaching out to gay and lesbian tourists had on our city.

At the Better Calgary Campaign, we believe a vibrant city is a city the celebrates and promotes diversity. We are profoundly disappointed that Mayor Bronconnier, when faced with the opportunity to stand up and defend Tourism Calgary's admirable attempt to reach out to the gay and lesbian community, couldn't bring himself to do the right thing. We expected better.

As for the rest of the debate, a few interesting points:

- Alnoor Kassam is clearly the only candidate who is presenting a serious challenge to Mayor Bronconnier. He was particularly impressive on his answers with respect to ethics and campaign finance reform. He also handled potentially troublesome questions about his background forthrightly and with grace.

- Bronconnier avoided answering the question as to whether the West LRT should be rerouted to Mount Royal College. Kassam argued that Mount Royal College should be served by bus rapid transit rather than delay construction of the West LRT. Most of the other candidates were supportive of revisiting the alignment of the West LRT.

- Bronconnier, for the first time that we can remember, mentioned the words inclusionary zoning. He suggested that the city should consider having all new developments include affordable housing. We were unable to find any details of this proposal on his website and hope that he publishes specific details about this proposal.

- The Mayor's ill thought-out secondary suite plan was universally panned by the other candidates. The Mayor's plan would have the taxpayers give $25,000 to homeowners to build suites (which would still be outlawed in most of the city) in their house provided that they agree to rent it out for 20 years.

You can listen to the debate (and Chima and Naheed's questions) at :

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Our endorsements are up

We've been very lax about blogging, but very busy with the campaign overall.

Lots of media coverage all over the place, on big issues like diversity and transit to horse races in the individual wards. No less than three mentions in today's Herald:

Story on our endorsements

Bob Remington column on Ward 3

Editorial on diversity

The endorsements, the rationale for each, and every candidate's survey response in full, are posted on our website here.

We should note that, while we stand by our endorsements, we neither expect nor desire people to take them on blind faith. We are publishing all surveys in full so that those who wish to do so may read them and make up their own minds.

Our job right now is to get this message out to everyone who is interested in the campaign. We're using Internet tools to do this as well as we can, as well as media, but we encourage everyone reading this to forward it around, paste it on your Facebook, publish it on your blog, and let people read these surveys.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Can rules help get us out of this mess?

The early campaigning in the municipal election really underlines our argument about the lack of rules to create a level playing field for all.

The transit union, despite making the worst investment ever when they attempted to buy Alderman Helene Larocque in 2004, has decided to back two candidates -- Larocque and Al Koenig -- with $10,000 donations this time around.

Rank-and-file bus drivers must be wondering what their president, Mike Mahar, is doing with their union dues. Maybe it sounded like a good idea at the time to have an alderman on their side, but since Laroque was kicked out of negotiations on the contract since she was obviously tainted, you'd think they would have learned their lesson.

Mind you, Mahar is the same union president that forgot a cardinal rule of bargaining -- if you work to rule for months on end and no one notices, you're not in as strong a bargaining position as you thought.

One only hopes that the firefighters' union, deciding whether to endorse candidates, chooses to stay out of the fray.

All of this, though, is really about a lack of rules. Koenig can run for council while simultaneously serving as a union boss. What happens is he wins? Will he negotiate a new contract with himself?

This is why we believe that campaign finance reform is so essential -- capping donation amounts and requiring immediate disclosure of all donations will go a long way towards opening up the system.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

And ... we're up!

The new website is up! If you came here via, check out our new site on

It has some brief information about the group and our issues, and it is where we will be posting the results of our survey as well as our endorsements!

(Now, apparently it can take up to 48 hours for the "name servers" to "propagate" across the Internet, but it does seem to be working for us, so hopefully you get a nice blue background and a picture of the Calgary skyline when you click. If not, try again tomorrow!)

Special thanks to Leigh McDonald of Medium Rare Studios who volunteered his time and web development skills to this process.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bear with us while we move

We're in the midst of launching our new website, so there may be a few glitches as we move over to the new servers.

In the meantime and for the near future, this site will continue to be available at, and you can point your RSS readers here as well.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Nomination Day!

Now, we've seriously started. Funny-scariest-weirdest moment was Madeline King having 40 of her signatures disallowed and having 90minutes to find people who could sign -- every candidate's worst nightmare.

And Naheed Nenshi was quoted in the Herald again today. To quote his dad, "Are you planning on being in the paper EVERY DAY? Did you bribe them or something?"

Sunday, September 16, 2007

End of term report card time

Today's Calgary Herald has a great piece on the end of the municipal term.
In it, the BCC's Naheed Nenshi gives this Council a "B for effort, but a D on execution."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Oh, Barry...

Lots of media this week around Barry Erskine's surprise resignation from Council. It's been a great opportunity to shine a light on one of our major issues: campaign finance reform.

Here are a couple of stories from the Herald:

On the resignation.

On campaign finance rules.

The best part of this last one is where a donor, related to the development industry, refers to the "return on investment" of their donation, inadvertently proving our point that there is a quid pro quo system in place.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What do you want to ask candidates in the election?

The Better Calgary Campaign will be surveying all declared candidates in the upcoming municipal election with the goal of endorsing a slate of candidates in each race. But first, you can help us decide what to ask. Long post below...

For ease of use, we will cut and paste our current questions here. If you have anything you'd like to add, mention it in the "comment" field or drop us an email at We'll finalize the survey this Friday evening, so act quickly!
1. What are the top three issues facing your Ward?

2. What are the top three issues facing the city as a whole, if different from above?

3. Urban Sprawl and Housing
a. Do you support the concept of extending Transit-Oriented Development throughout the city, including established neighbourhoods? What is your stance on the proposed development at Dalhousie Station (in Varsity)?

b. Are we facing a housing crisis in Calgary? If so, what should be done about it? If you are an incumbent, what have you specifically done about this?

c. Do you support legalization of secondary suites in all existing neighbourhoods, subject only to reasonable safety concerns? Why or why not?

d. Please rank urban sprawl as an issue for Calgary from 1 (not an issue at all) to 5 (the most vital issue in the city). If you believe it is a problem, what will you do to address it? (If you are an incumbent, what have you already specifically done?) If you don’t see it as a problem, please explain why.

4. Transportation
a. Transportation has long ranked amongst one of the major concerns of Calgarians. Has the City been doing a good job of addressing transportation needs? What would you do differently?

b. Do you use public transit regularly? Bus, C-train, or both? What is the role of public transit in the City? Does our current system meet the needs of the city? If not, how would you improve it?

c. Are you in favour of the current strategic plan for transit? If not, what changes would you make?

d. The City’s current plan does not envision direct C-Train service to either the airport or Mount Royal College. Would you favour amending the plan to reach these two destinations (both within close distance of planned lines)? Why or why not?

5. Vibrant and sustainable communities

a. Please rank homelessness and urban poverty more generally as an issue for Calgary from 1 (not an issue at all) to 5 (the most vital issue in the city). If you believe it is a problem, what will you do to address it? (If you are an incumbent, what have you already specifically done?) If you don’t see it as a problem, please explain why.

b. What is your stance on arts funding? Do you support the recent recommendations of the Calgary Arts Development Authority?

c. What is your stance on the city’s curbside recycling plan? Would you extend the plan to include recycling of organics? Why or why not?

d. What other environmental initiatives, if any, would you favour?

e. Please rank crime and safety as an issue for Calgary from 1 (not an issue at all) to 5 (the most vital issue in the city). If you believe it is a problem, what will you do to address it? (If you are an incumbent, what have you already specifically done?) If you don’t see it as a problem, please explain why.

6. Taxes and revenues. Does the current system of funding municipal government largely through property taxes work well? If not, what changes would you recommend?

7. Political reform. Does the current system of campaign financing work well? If not, what changes would you favour?

8. FOR INCUMBENTS ONLY: What are your three major accomplishments this term? Of what are you most proud?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Election ... and new site ... coming soon!

Happy September, everyone!

We're into silly season now, with the municipal election only five weeks away. The BCC will be very busy from here on in, with surveying candidates and highlighting important issues. Our new website is in the final stage before launch, and should be up at sometime this week. Take a deep breath -- it's going to be a big few weeks!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Op-Ed in today's Herald

Yes, there has been a lot of radio silence around here, but a lot of work behind the scenes as well. A shiny new website will launch here very soon, and a new blog with it. In the meantime, here is an op-ed from today's Calgary Herald on the problems facing Calgary Transit. There are two small editing errors: the note on the West LRT should say "an expanded BRT line" and the reference to "Garrison Woods" should read "Currie Barracks", which, when completed, will look like "Garrison on steroids" according to the developer.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

We'll get to you, really!

Thanks to the many many of you who have requested our e-newsletter and/or offered yourselves up as volunteers in the lat few weeks. We've been overwhelmed by the response and are working to make sure we offer you the best possible information and the best possible opportunities. So, if you sent us a note recently, we'll certainly be in touch soon!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ethnic Business Parks?

BCC Co-Chair, Chima Nkemdirim, spoke on CBC's the Calgary Eyeopener on June 18 about the rise of South Asian-dominated business parks in Calgary's Westwinds area. The tone of the report was generally positive, but Chima cautioned against increasing segregation of both residential and business neighbourhoods.

NOTE: The link above will open an audio file (RealPlayer). If you have trouble opening the file, click here, and scroll down to "South Asian Business Parks".

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Op-Ed in today's Herald

Today's Herald op-ed starts to set out the results of much of the BCC's work over the last several months, into a bit of a manifesto. The piece is not available on-line (strangely, op-eds on the letters page never are), but the major points include:

UPDATE: the full test is indeed posted on the Herald's website.

Ending urban sprawl. The growth patterns we see in Calgary are not natural evolution; it’s because of the choices we have made that 80% of Calgary neighbourhoods lost population in 2005, a year of incredible growth. We have chosen to subsidize new homes on the outskirts of the city, while making it difficult to redevelop inner-city and existing suburban neighbourhoods. We need to ask ourselves why bureaucrats measure the height difference between a “deck” and a “patio” for home renovators while we pay almost full freight for the infrastructure needed in new areas.
Renewing our focus on public transit. Everyone who has studied the issue comes to the same conclusion: new roads create traffic, they don’t remove congestion. Transit, on the other hand, is the answer to so many of the issues that big cities face: congestion, pollution, social isolation. We have to work hard to make it the best possible choice, not the choice for those who have no other choice.
Fighting urban poverty and homelessness. While big cities have inequities in income almost by definition, homelessness is not inevitable. How is it that Calgary, with its sometimes-brutal winters, has far more homeless people per capita than Vancouver?
Building vibrant, missed communities. Arts and culture really matter – even if people never go to the ballet, they want to live in a city with a ballet. Even more important is the backgammon-and-bocce stuff I discussed at the beginning. Cities need an urban vibe, attractive and attracting public spaces, and neighbourhoods that are welcoming, safe, and mixed.

We'll post the full article in the next couple of days, after the Herald's exclusive expires.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Naheed on CBC today

In his new role as affordable housing expert (??), Naheed will be on CBC Radio's Wild Rose Forum provincial call-in show. Listen in live at and or call in on 1-866-468-4422.

Friday, May 18, 2007

More on affordable housing

CBC has created quite a good website from the Blueprint Alberta:Rent forum. You can listen to all of the speakers, including Naheed's comments (towards the bottom) on the site. Some very interesting diverse points of view.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Affordable Housing thoughts

It just looks like we've been away for a bit, but the team's been working hard. Naheed Nenshi was on the Calgary Eyeopener discussing policy prescriptions for affordable housing, and was invited as an external "expert" at the CBC sponsored forum, Blueprint Alberta: Rent. (If you want to hear Naheed's brief comments, scroll down to "Edmonton vs Calgary"). Expand this post to see our thoughts on affordable housing policy.

We're still developing our thinking on this topic, but here are a few thoughts to kickstart the debate. Of course, homelessness and affordable housing are deep complex issues (and this isn't really about homelessness broadly writ), but in some ways, we know the solution, and to quote Grant Neufeld of the Calgary Housing Action Initiative, what we need is a combination of political will and public will. People know what the solutions are, really; it's a matter of seeing if our politicians can find the courage to lead and get us there.

Both the supply side and the demand side of the equation need to be addressed, as follows:

First, we need to manage the short-term. While the economy is indeed cooling (Sam Kolias of Boardwalk says that his vacancies in Grand Prairie have shot up to 8% in the last few months), we need to deal with today's crisis, not wait for new accommodation to be built in two to three years.

-- The City has shown itself to be incapable of showing leadership, in an election year, on the one area that would make a difference immediately: the legalization of secondary suites. There should be a two-year moratorium on enforcing the current laws, except in cases of significant safety problems, and new codes should be drafted that make it inexpensive and easy to bring any existing home in Calgary into legal compliance. If the City won't do it, the Province should legislate them into it, as has been done in other provinces. (Naheed called this last idea a "get out of jail free" card for the provincial Tories going into the Calgary byelection)

-- We need to do everything possible to keep people from falling into the shelter system, which is very expensive and difficult to escape from. This means we need emergency rental supplement programs and the ability for tenants in trouble to get representation from the city or social agencies when negotiating with landlords.

-- Rental supplements won't work without some kind of rent increase management guidelines. The economy is cooling There should be a one-year moratorium on condo conversions of existing rental accommodation, and a reasonable cap on annual rents for the next year or two, with flexibility given to landlords to reflect actual increases in costs like property taxes and utilities. Yes, every Econ 101 textbook says rent controls constrain supply, but given that no rental accommodation has been built in Calgary in a decade, we are clearly not in a well-functioning supply-and-demand market today.

-- Once these three steps have been done to solve the immediate problem, we need to look at mid-term solutions like donating City-owned land for affordable housing, forcing 10-20% of all multi-family housing and new neighbourhoods to be fordable housing (also called mandatory inclusionary zoning), and examining new models of home ownership for the working poor (of which there are many examples). To make this happen, such housing needs to be integrated into communities, and City Hall needs to ignore the neighbours with NIMBY concerns (most studies show integrated housing raises, not lowers, nearby property values). The most shocking part of the forum was Sam Kolias saying he was ready and willing to build more rental housing, and had the land for it, but that NIMBYism was stopping his development permits.

-- In terms of public will, we all need to realize that we are truly in a crisis, and we all need to share the burden of solving it. This means that landlords need to restrain their potential profit in the short-term, yes, but, more important, that citizens need to accept that their neighbours should be able to rent their basements to students or seniors, and that those old strip malls and derelict hotels can and should become mixed-income housing, bring people into the neighbourhoods and kids into the schools.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Community Associations -- the right model?

This morning, Naheed Nenshi discussed the role of community associations with Jim Brown on CBC Radio One's the Calgary Eyeopener. Calgary is unique in the role we give formal community associations.

Not only do these associations perform an important service in offering community-based programs, they also have a quasi-official role in advocacy within city governance. Is this appropriate? Should your neighbours have a say in the design of your new deck? What happens if the association is losing members (as many are) and no longer represents the majority? What, if anything, is the alternative?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Grumpy in the morning

Naheed Nenshi will be on the Calgary Eyeopener on CBC Radio One tomorrow morning at 6:20 am discussing the role of community associations in Calgary's civic governance. Given how grumpy he normally is, what will he be like that early in the morning? You can listen live at (click on the Calgary feed) as well.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

This really happened.

We'll have some commentary on the Alberta Budget later this week as we work through some of the impenetrable documents. (Does it really call for a steep decline in arts funding over the next four years? We MUST be reading that wrong.)

But to tide you over, faithful readers, here's an amusing weekend anecdote: Naheed was picking up a Toronto friend from the airport on Saturday am. Out of longstanding NE Calgary habit, he was heading south on Barlow, rather than Deerfoot when his visitor exclaimed "Hey, is that Hidy and Howdy on the signs? That's awesome!" So, it seems that someone notices the signs after all. (She loved them, actually, and was crestfallen to hear they are being scrapped. She even wrote a letter to the Herald about it on her Blackberry.)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Happy trails, Hidy and Howdy...

While we are a little bit sad about the departure of Hidy and Howdy from our entranceways, it's probably time. After all, the majority of people living in Calgary now were not here during the 88 Olympics.

However, the shocking part of this story comes back to our usual theme: Council has lost all perspective on money. Somehow, it will take a year to design and create new signs (even though there is a beautiful new one on the TransCanada that could presumably be copied). So, we are spending $75,000 on temporary signs for one year -- just so delegates to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference next month will see nice new signs. We're spending the money -- six Craig Burrows courses worth -- so that the mayor of Toronto, if he looks up from his Blackberry out the window of his cab, may see a sign that he will never remember for a split-second. Stop the madness and reject this one on Monday, Council.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Budget Day!

The Alberta government releases its new budget on Thursday. It'll be interesting to see how Premier Stelmach goes on a few issues of vital importance to Calgary. We bet that we'll see a big commitment to affordable housing (though not rent control,of course) and a moderate increase in arts funding. The big question will be whether or not the government will commit to the full $1.4 billion in infrastructure funding, or just the first year or two. Check back later tomorrow afternoon for our thoughts.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Good, on balance

Some good news, some mixed, from today's Council meeting.

Starting with the good news, Council unanimously approved the recommendation from the Calgary Arts Development Authority that significant investments be made in our cultural infrastructure over the next several years -- $150MM over sever years, to be exact. This is a real sign that Council is finally over the "roads above all" infrastructure mentality.

In the "something is better than nothing" department, we'll finally have curbside recycling in Calgary. But not until 2009. And only for single-family homes, not apartments or condos. And we'll still have a parallel depot system (because why should we try to reduce costs)? And it ignores wet compost-ables, the most important part of the system. And it will be the only universal civic service that will have a separate user fee, despite all of Kate's good arguments against this. And Council acted in the most disgusting election-year grandstanding in passing it. But, we will have it, so that's something.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Big Monday

Huge Council agenda this week. Never let it be said these folks don't work hard. They'll be deciding on the 6th Avenue closure for construction of the Bow (just get it done and quit dithering), the newest plan for the Rivers, née East Village (hey,didn't we approve that last year, and the year before that, and 1995, and ...? See dithering, above, and ask yourself why the district now juts out to include the Bow, also above), and, of course, curbside recycling. Alderpeople Jones and Larocque, the swing votes on this one, were on the Calgary Eyeopener this morning, and gave pretty strong signals that they would support the current half-a-loaf plan after asking some good questions. See our take on this, below.

Land-use Bylaws and grumpiness

Naheed's op-ed did appear in today's Calgary Herald. It's not behind the subscriber-only firewall this time, so the link should take you right there. What do you think? is the bylaw too restrictive? How do we balance the need to control development with allowing creativity and innovation?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

We got Belinda'd...

For those who were wondering what happened to Naheed Nenshi's op-ed in Thursday's Herald (which was previewed in Wednesday's paper), we got Belinda'd, as the editor told us. Sunday's paper includes another preview, so it should be on Monday's editorial page. This one should get a lot of reaction; it manages to be critical both of the proposed Land Use Bylaw and those who are trying to gut it. Naheed assures us it actually makes sense, but he was clearly really grumpy when he wrote it. We'll post the link on Monday and the full text after the Herald's exclusive expires.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Text of Op-Ed on curbside recycling

Here is the text of the op-ed on curbside recycling, which had a great deal of response. What do you think? Do you favour curbside recycling? What about user fees?

Here is Kate's piece in full:

Curbside recycling is just like the smoking bylaw all over again. Everyone else has already done it, we know it's the right thing and we want to do it, but we're nervous. Maybe not yet, and maybe we should change the rules several times for no overall gain.

On the main principles, the vast majority agrees: banning smoking is good for our health; recycling is good for the environment.

On the smoking bylaw, council responded to the fears of a few people by delaying (and delaying, and delaying) the implementation as if that would somehow soften the imaginary blow to businesses.

Now that the ban is in place, the sky has not fallen, bars are busier than ever, and everyone agrees it was the right thing to do.

Now curbside recycling is also facing a debate on timing, and discussion on funding muddies the whole scheme.

In the early 1990s, Calgary chose community recycling depots (CRD) as a more complete and cost-effective solution over curbside recycling. CRD works very well when people use it. It has a lower environmental impact, since there are no special vehicle trips -- people tend to drop off the recyclables when they are going to the store anyway.

Compostables are conveniently contained in people's very own backyard composter. No extra emissions from curbside pickup and no need to fund a regional composting facility.

Unfortunately, people don't use it. After 15 years of the CRD system, Calgary's waste diversion rate is only 15 per cent. If you compare that with Edmonton's rate of 60 per cent, a curbside system starts to look worthwhile.

Since Edmonton began curbside recycling in 1988, Calgary has done little except demonstrate that Calgarians are too busy to bother participating in the depot system.

So, all in favour, but how do we fund it? Strangely, user fees are proposed. Public outcry about the cost of the program ensues. Council responds by reducing the recycling services offered in the program. This isn't what we want.

Calgary wants the full program at a reasonable cost. The original proposal before council was a monthly user fee of $21 or $252 per household per year.

Compare that with the average cost per single family dwelling in Edmonton of $180. Council should be asking why the program would cost 40 per cent more in Calgary. How do private companies do the job for less right now? Why isn't council addressing these questions instead of blindly accepting the cost estimates of administration?

Instead of looking into the program costs, they redistribute them by proposing to fund garbage collection from property taxes and cutting back the recycling program by excluding organics. The actual cost of the program remains unchanged.

Then there's the spurious argument for user fees. Such fees are useful in two situations: either when not everyone receives a service, or to financially motivate a decrease in use.

For example, swimming pool fees mean those who don't swim don't pay as much as those who do, and metering water results in reduced consumption.

Neither reason applies to curbside recycling. Everyone needs waste and recycling services and get it regardless of how much they throw out or recycle. Keep the optical politics out of the real issue by funding the program through property taxes.

Other funding also needs to be investigated. Is the city eligible for funding under Alberta Environment's Resource Recovery Grant Program or Waste Management Assistance Program? Are public-private partnerships an effective way to reduce program costs? Should we implement bag fees for garbage and tax the behaviour we actually want to reduce?

It's time to remind our aldermen that their job is to find out what Calgarians want and ensure cost-effective implementation.

Calgary wants curbside recycling. Council needs to lead city employees to find innovative ways to reduce costs to the taxpayer.

Kate Easton takes her recyclables to the depot on her bike and returns home with a pannier full of groceries. Even other Better Calgary Campaign volunteers think she's a bit crazy. More info at

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Op-Ed in today's Herald

BCC member, Kate Easton, writes on recycling in today's Calgary Herald.

The article doesn't seem to be on the Herald's main webpage, but w'll post the full text on this blog in the next day or so (after the Herald's exclusive expires).

Sunday, April 1, 2007

BCC in NYT (sort of)

A member of the Better Calgary Campaign was quoted in a New York Times article on Calgary ... we'd like to take credit, but...

If you haven't seen last month's New York Times article on Calgary
, you really should. It's certainly declassé to be all excited that the big city noticed us, but this is a really well-written piece.

Best part, though, is:

While the beneficiaries of Calgary's boom are easy to spot, it's not all good news for long-term residents. Tom Booth, a young lawyer who was buying wine on Stephen Avenue, noted that the population influx has meant a huge rise in living costs and an encroachment on the space and independence Calgarians once took for granted. Downtown parking lots charge up to $30 a day and homes in former working-class suburbs are selling for close to $850,000, pushing out the middle class, not to mention the poor. “It's forced Calgary to think about how to be a big city,” Mr. Booth said.

Tom is, of course, the Communications Chair for the BCC. We'd love to take credit for getting him into the world's most important newspaper, but he really was just buying wine when he was approached by the Times reporter. Nonetheless, we'll take it where we get it!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Burrows, in context

Here is the text of an op-ed appearing in the Calgary Herald on March 14. It places Craig Burrows's $12,000 misadventure in the context of how Council has forgotten the value of money.

Ald. Craig Burrows is right. We should be investing in our municipal politicians. Unfortunately, while his principles are in the right place, he's wrong about nearly everything else relating to his $12,000 corporate governance course.

The Better Calgary Campaign, a volunteer group with whom I work, has long advocated the need to bring better people into municipal politics, and to give those who choose to serve the tools they need to do a good job.

To be blunt, being an alderman should never be the best job an incumbent will ever have, and that incumbent should have the skills to focus on issues that really matter. That's why I was supportive of the latest aldermanic pay hikes, and of increasing the office budget so that aldermen could each have two assistants.

However, the case of Burrows and the Institute of Corporate Directors course steps well over the line for a number of reasons.

First, the process stank. Council is not equipped to deal with requests of this nature, and there does not appear to be a process in place. The decision to pay for this course was made by the audit committee, and not really made public until a month after the fact.

Some aldermen, worried about public backlash, voted to rescind the payment -- but only after the course had started. The money has not been refunded.

Second, the course itself is of questionable value for Burrows's job. It's really meant for directors of publicly traded companies, which have very different requirements for directors than does the city.

There is a version offered by the same people for non-profit directors, but this only costs $2,500. Burrows did not sign up. The city had already invited governance experts for a free seminar for aldermen last year. Burrows did not attend.

We are left to imagine that Burrows wanted to take this particular course, with classmates who are captains of industry, in an election year, for one of two reasons: either he feels he will be re-elected no matter what this fall, so this will be a good investment for taxpayers, or this course will help him in his post- aldermanic career. Neither reflects well on Burrows.

The most important reason this was troubling, however, was the amount of money involved. It's almost as though Burrows has forgotten what $12,000 means to the average Calgarian. Since Burrows has an undergraduate degree and would have some advanced credit, $12,000 would have gotten him an entire applied degree in non- profit management at Mount Royal College. Or, it means that my parents' property taxes for the last five years have paid for nothing but Burrows's course.

Burrows, while probably the worst offender, is far from unique in this regard. The entire council seems guilty of losing perspective on how much money they are spending -- easy to do when you regularly deal with numbers in the millions.

On the one hand, they spend what they think of as small amounts with abandon. In an election year, the mayor sent out a glossy report to all Calgarians with some 13 pictures of himself cutting ribbons, looking like a leader.

The cost to taxpayers? A mere $70,000, or five years' worth of rent for one of my students. Or, perhaps more to the point, $70,000 is more than all of the mayor's opponents in the last election spent on their campaigns. Combined.

On the other hand, when it comes to big amounts, council has the annoying habit of reducing everything to an individual household.

Want the streets plowed? It'll cost you $45. Recycling? That's $13 per month, please. While some may argue that this trend increases transparency and accountability, I say it's a way to duck questions of true leadership.

There are some things that a civic government just does -- plowing, maintaining parks, providing police, fire and ambulance, and so on. Paying for these services is part of our duty as citizens.

Reducing everything to the lowest common denominator leads to thinking that services are only for the individual, not the community -- I don't have kids, give me a rebate on the portion of my taxes that paid for the playground.

Seen in this context, Burrows's $12,000 misadventure becomes a symptom of a larger, more complex problem: how can we get a council that is capable of thinking big thoughts and making big changes, but still rooted in the real lives of real people?

Naheed Nenshi, instructor of nonprofit studies at Mount Royal College's Bissett School of Business, volunteers with the Better Calgary Campaign. More info at: