5 storylines to watch in 2021… they may look familiar

What will be the big stories in 2021? We look ahead... and it looks a lot like 2020

Will Mayor Nenshi run again in 2021? One of the big questions next year. FILE PHOTO

We’re about to put the lid on an interesting 2020 in the news world.

If you haven’t been keeping track, we’ve looked back at the top 10 most read stories of 2020 at LiveWire Calgary, and the overall top 5 storylines of the year.

In this piece, we’re going to look into the crystal ball to tell you what we predict will be some of the top stories to follow in 2021. Some will look the same, others will be very different.

Let’s begin – (In no particular order)

COVID-19

It’s fair to say that COVID-19 was easily COVID-20 and will likely be COVID-21 in terms of stories it produces in the upcoming year.

Vaccine rollout, economic recovery, lingering mental health toll, a political post-mortem of sort will happen all over the world – these will all be stories to follow in the upcoming year.

One of the interesting things to us is what will we carry with us from this experience. Will we snap back to ‘the way it was’ or will we take the finer lessons this past year has taught us? Will we go back to the breakneck pace of life, or will we stop to smell the roses once again?

There’s still a lot of mileage left on COVID-19; there likely will be for years to come.

Green Line

The big question in the end is: Will this $5.5 billion project get into the ground?

When we shake the magic 8-ball, it keeps coming up with, “the future is unclear.”

It’s tough to get a read on what the province is specifically after, and it’s really difficult to tell if this is being pushed by the city at all costs because of legacy or vanity.

Does the Green Line have its benefits? Yes. Thousands of temporary jobs construction jobs to go along with the additional long-term jobs with the operation and maintenance. The southeast will finally have a much-needed mass-transit link with the rest of the city.

It will likely stimulate some level of transit oriented development around the stations.   

Deerfoot Trail will thank you for extending its life.

Have we asked, however, what will the impact of long-term work-from-home changes be on the projected daily ridership numbers?  Have we assessed the impact of other micro-mobility options on the typical transit commute?  Perhaps these are questions the province is asking – along with, “Is it essential to go underground?” Or, “Do we need to do it up to be a spectacle, or can it be utilitarian, more like existing lines?”

This will continue to be a big story through 2021. The beauty of this one is, no one can really predict the ending.

Calgary’s Economy

There are obvious ties to COVID-19, but how does Calgary’s economy rebound? What’s different – what goes back to the same as before?

Among the human toll of COVID-19 was the death of many Calgary small businesses. Long standing ones at that.

Along with that, however, was a renaissance of Calgary small business. We saw innovation, creativity and ingenuity that inspired people across the city. Businesses found new ways to do old things, they pivoted their businesses to provide Calgarians with COVID-19 necessities and they broke down barriers to survive.

There’s little doubt as the vaccines continue to be administered and we start to find our way past COVID-19, there will be a spark for the economy. How that plays out will be a continuing storyline through 2021.

Tech is taking hold in the city. With that, the old guard still stands strong and firm in its reliance carbon energy. There’s no doubt it has a strong role to play in the city’s success, but will it finally take a back seat to emerging industries for good?

2021 may be the year we get a better picture of what lies ahead for the city’s economy.

City budget / taxes

In our year end interview with Mayor Nenshi, he said he didn’t believe the 2021 budget adjustments (in Nov. 2021) would be miserable.

He said the city has been sound financial stewards of taxpayer cash so we can ride out the downtimes with reserve cash socked away for rainy days.

This year, taxpayers saw a reduction in the city’s property tax rate. That doesn’t mean a property tax decrease for everyone, though. Especially Calgary businesses – many hard hit by COVID-19. Mayor Nenshi pointed to the boom in online sales as the reason for warehouses seeing a spike in property taxes. But, 17 Avenue SW retail and neighbourhood strip malls also saw a sharp increase.

The city put forward – and approved – 22 business cases under their SAVE program. Due to this, $26 million was stripped from the city budget’s proposed increases. (Yes, we know how that sounds.)

It should be noted that even with the cuts, the city’s net operating budget still increased by $17 million from 2020 to 2021’s final approved budget.

We’re no property tax experts, but here’s what we could see:

  • Nearly $5 million in SAVE program operating budget reductions were funded through reserve funds or capital programs. When we asked how this would impact future budgets, the city said this would be accounted for in tax-base supported funding in the future. So, in essence, to continue with much of this, we need to come up with nearly $5 million more.
  • The so-called tax-shift is like a rubber band; when one side pulls, it eventually snaps back.  While warehouses bore the brunt of non-residential tax increases this year due to increased demand in online shopping, those discretionary dollars may not be spent the same way in 2021. It may migrate back to local retailers.  This could be a dangerous issue: The money lost in property tax revenue from warehouses will have to be made up elsewhere (should this bear out). With an increase in retail space value, they may have to bear the burden of any non-residential tax increases once again. 

There’s no expectation the downtown values will gain substantial traction in 2021. Some, but nothing near where it was prior to this economic downturn. That means the tax burden bounces like a ping-pong ball between different business classes in 2021.

  • In order to pay for growth and to cover costs incurred in 2021’s budget, we don’t see a plausible way for the tax rate to stay down for 2022 without substantial cuts.

Municipal election

In 2021, Calgarians will go to the ballot box to select their civic leaders for another four years.

We’re going to be keeping close tabs on the election this year, right from Jan. 1.

It will be a race like none other, at a time like none other.

We have a handful of mayoral candidates already. We don’t yet know if current Mayor Naheed Nenshi will run again. He told us he would decide in the first quarter to give others time to mount their campaigns.

Many have already said this will be a divisive campaign. While political sides have been staked in past elections through ideas and visions, actual party politics hasn’t really made its way into Calgary’s municipal politics the way it could in 2021.

We expect a massive surge of baseless claims from many groups/candidates. The use of bits and pieces of information to wage a war of misinformation will be the biggest challenger in this year’s race. It will happen from Ward 1 to 14 and the mayor’s chair.

At a time when Calgary is at a crossroads fiscally, economically and socially, selecting the political future of the city could be one of the most important stories to come out of 2021.

About Darren Krause 730 Articles
Journalist, husband, father, golfer, writer, painter, video gamer, gardener, amateur botanist, dreamer, realist... never in that order.

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