Tahir Merali said there was a void created when current Ward 5 councillor George Chahal withdrew to run in the upcoming federal election.
Merali, an engineer and 25-year resident of Calgary, said he’s always had an interest in local and national political issues. He’s also been volunteering with several Calgary non-profits and community condo boards for years. Merali wanted to combine that experience, along with his time living around the world, into a new choice for Ward 5.
Chahal’s departure was the catalyst for him to jump into the Ward 5 race.
“It became essentially a vacuum of leadership and voice that the city would have on the municipal level,” said Merali.
“Moving on to federal politics, (Chahal) might be able to take that forward if he’s successful on the federal level but then where does that leave ward five in our city?”
Merali said he was also motivated by the fact Calgary is faced with what he calls a “generational election” on Calgary city council. There are 10 of 14 seats with no incumbent candidate.
“We have an opportunity here to make a difference for the city for Calgary when it comes to 10 years from now to be able to have it be a thriving, vibrant and awesome place to be and to live, work and play in,” he said.
Top issue in Calgary: Taxes
Merali said the property tax burden has been shifted more to residential side, affecting tens of thousands of Calgary homeowners.
He said it’s primarily because of the hollowed-out downtown core. It forced the shift to homeowners, but also put the non-residential tax burden on small- and medium-sized businesses, too.
“This city council, one of the largest issues they’re going to have to face is how do we fix that issue,” Merali said.
It’s going to require a solution that helps fills the downtown towers to rebuild that tax base in the core. It’s going to need a plan to help smaller businesses take the leap into making the downtown a destination.
Another area that needs repair, Merali said, is the rift between the city and the province. He believes it’s critical to collaborate more rather than being at odds.
He raised the devastating hailstorm as one area that cooperation could have benefitted citizens.
“The city stepped up to provide what they could, but there wasn’t as much support from the province,” Merali said.
“What can we do better in order to get more support for citizens here, both in Calgary and in Ward 5 based on a more collaborative approach when it comes to the relationship of the province and the city.”
Ward 5: Access to services and infrastructure
Merali said there’s a lack of critical infrastructure in Ward 5. It’s a problem he’s determined to help fix, moving ahead on work done by his predecessor.
He said one critical issue is building out the rest of the Ward with sufficient services, and the ability “live, work and play” effectively in the Ward.
It’s something he’s seen in living in other places in the world. Merali has lived in smaller apartments, walked to a nearby coffee shop or the grocery store and hopped on transit to get downtown.
It requires connected, reliable transit, he said. Projects like the northeast field house is on a priority list, but he’s worried it could still be years away. Residents don’t necessarily want to drive 20 minutes to get to the Genesis centre.
“We need to be able to facilitate really good access to that and have it close to them so families can grow and really form true, connected communities,” Merali said.
Green Line / Event Centre
Merali said the Green Line is an essential piece of infrastructure to set the city up for the future. In his career, he’s worked on mega projects that require years of work and engage thousands of people.
While there’s no direct access to the Green Line in his ward, Merali notes that by having it, it improves the connection across the city. It creates a complete transit network for citizens to access.
“The more you mobilize people in the city, the better opportunity they have to be able to enjoy their lifestyle here in the city,” he said.
On the Event Centre, Merali said there are different events that don’t come to Calgary because the current Saddledome isn’t the right building. He said it, too, is a key piece for the city moving forward.
“At the end of the day we need a space that is multi-purpose, that can support the future needs of sporting events, multi-purpose events, the Stampede, and concerts – whatever it may be for the future 35 to 40 years of the city going forward,” Merali said.
Recently released Event Centre drawings showed Merali that the city and Calgary Sport and Entertainment are trying to adhere to product principles: Fit, Form and Function.
He said the current iteration looks simple and functional. But that’s the challenge: How do you make it look good, versus making it do what it’s supposed to do.
“I think there’s a good balance there,” he said.
Development and police funding
Merali said the city must be more responsible in providing sustainable services to communities they plan to build. He cites newer areas in Ward 5 without reliable transit.
“Those are the types of things that should be priority number one, as well as understanding if we build new communities, well, how are we going to service them?” Merali said.
The city also had to understand that the more communities they build, the more strain it puts on existing services, like utilities and emergency response.
He’s a fan of the 50/50 (urban vs suburban) approach to future development. Merali recognizes it won’t happen overnight.
“There should be a lot more conversation and consultation about how do we start shifting our thought process around not overstraining our current system, but also being able to plan effectively for the future, and building connected communities within areas that we’ve already built,” he said.
On police funding, Merali said crime is especially challenging in Ward 5, particularly petty crimes in neighbourhoods. He’s in favour of more effectively allocating the current funding to address some of these issues.
In his area, more police patrols would be welcome to help ward off some of the nefarious activity.
He would also be in favour of enhancing the police budget where appropriate.
Merali said his experience working with Fortune 500 companies, to that of working on the ground level with local non-profits, gives him a solid foundation to represent Ward 5.
“I’ve had the opportunity to understand how our city can grow from a macro perspective, but also on a very neighbourhood street level as well,” he said.
Calgary’s municipal election is Oct. 18, 2021.