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Protecting Taxpayer Dollars Shouldn’t Cost Nenshi the Election

It’s not the five CEO’s but it is five wealthy gentleman.  Are the Calgary Flames owners negotiating, campaigning for a new mayor of Calgary or are they truly finished with making profit in Alberta?  While Mayor Nenshi is often referred to as “Spendshi” by his political detractors, he was the first to say “no” to tax dollars being used to fund a new arena during a recession in 2016.  Nenshi’s popularity has taken a hit over the past couple of years and Calgary’s need for an arena seems to have been elevated to an election issue a mere 32 days before the October 16 election.

Private industry has a love-hate relationship with government. Government is responsible for regulations, by-laws, tax collection and spending.  While the former are often considered “unnecessary“, “job-killing” and “scaring off investment” the latter, spending, is only considered to be a bad thing if private industry is not somehow benefiting.

Photo credit: Jeff MacIntosh/The Canadian Press

The initial proposal for the new arena, Calgary Next, asked the city (aka: residents and taxpayers) to match the owners’ personal investment.  In an investment, if one puts money toward a profit-yielding venture, they often negotiate an ownership agreement or at the very least, a percentage of profits in return for said investment.  For the city and its taxpayers, the Calgary Next proposal was nothing of the sort.

In addition to loaning Calgary Next a half billion ($240 million in a direct loan and $250 million through a city revitalization loan) and giving them the $200 million they initially requested, Calgary taxpayers would also pay to clean up the contaminated soil on the West Village site which the city believed would bring the total cost of an $890 million proposal to $1.8 billion. For this generosity, Calgary Next would build a public-access field house, pay no future taxes and keep all the profits.  The city, aka Calgary taxpayers would not be considered equal partners in this venture; what the Flames owners proposed was/is literally a hand out.

Jason Markusoff, Calgary resident, journalist and Macleans contributor, wrote that it was unlikely a conservative contender for Mayor would have a better chance of winning if they agreed to use taxpayer dollars to fund the arena but that’s exactly what private industry in this province is used to. The election of Mayors Nenshi and Iveson was an indication that people were fed up with the status quo in Alberta.  Many people understand their taxes are meant to pay for things that make their lives and their communities better.  Seeing those tax dollars used to benefit a few million or billionaires didn’t sit well with the electorates if the 2015 election of the NDP over the ultra-conservative Wildrose is anything to go by.

Taxpayer dollars are meant to be used to benefit taxpayers.  Public art, for all its controversies, is available to all.  Roads, whether you use them for your own vehicle or take public transit, are available to all. A new arena that will house events at a cost is not available to all; it is available only to those who can afford to attend.  Nenshi was right to say no to the “deal” but if the arena becomes an election issue, and if money really does talk, it could cost him his job.

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