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Economic plans: Mayoral candidates chart the course for Calgary’s economy

Two mayoral candidates rolled out their Calgary economic plans Wednesday with both blueprints focused on talent and emerging economic opportunities.

Jeff Davison and Jyoti Gondek provided their vision for Calgary’s economic future, and while thematic in nature, the plans offered some specifics for achieving the goals.

Davison focused on four primary areas: Talent, economic stability, collaboration and continuous learning.

“Over the next 28 days I’m going to talk a lot about Calgarians and getting Calgary back on track,” said Davison.

“Today, I am starting with the first real economic plan for Calgary ever. This plan will guide every announcement I make during the campaign and will define my term as mayor, not because business is all that matters, but because without business and the revenues and lifestyle they create, nothing else can be done.”

Gondek’s plan outlined three goals: Predictability for business and investors, refocusing the development agenda and attracting and retaining talent.

“Faced with so many challenges, we must draw on our history and strengths to chart our own path forward,” said Gondek.

“The next four years at City Hall must be dedicated to fostering stability. Only by stabilizing our economy, prioritizing our collective wellbeing, and investing equitably in our communities, can we meaningfully move the dial toward greater prosperity for all.” 

Specifics on the plans

The specifics to accomplish these goals differ between candidates.

Gondek addressed near-term challenges in getting through the current fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said vaccine passports and masking policies must continue to provide certainty to potential investors.

Gondek also said that the city must remain committed to the downtown funding for housing conversions in downtown towers.  The plan also calls for continued flexibility seen during COVID in meeting the needs of business, plus specifically targets budget reform. In addition, Gondek’s plan highlights the need for budget reform, that tracks the real assessed property value to set an operating budget.

On the economic development agenda, Gondek’s plan calls for the consolidation of different economy-focused groups into one authority. Her plan cites different work being done by Tourism Calgary, Calgary Economic Development and the Calgary Convention Centre Authority.

“Multiple civic bodies with similar mandates continue to work in silos, while poorly conceived

direct-to-business investment and granting programs have been introduced in recent years,” the plan states.

Gondek’s plan also said that the city shouldn’t be involved in investing taxpayer dollars into private companies through wholly-owned subsidiaries. The cash should be invested in services and amenities for communities.

A regional economic strategy is also recommended in Gondek’s plan. A focus is on Calgary’s food/ag and emerging clean energy technologies.

Attracting talent comes down to building complete communities. It also means fostering the opening of childcare spaces in the city, Gondek’s plan states.

Executing on Davison’s four economic pillars

On retaining talent, Davison’s plan looks at building up a vibrant downtown core that “offers a workstyle and lifestyle that attracts global talent.” It also refers to improving quality of life and affordability.

Removing barriers and improving collaboration has built a reputation that Calgary’s a tough place to do business, the plan shows.

Davison’s plan calls for innovation goals to find cost savings and reducing red tape to find more opportunities to grow in new ways.

Support for emerging industries, particularly in cleantech, smart energy and decarbonization are included in Davison’s plan, though no specifics on that support are provided. Food and clean energy are also a focus.

Davison also talks about expanding the city’s role as a connector or transportation and logistics gateway in Canada.

A formalized cabinet of post-secondary, business and civic leaders would be struck to guide the economic development work, according to Davison’s plan. This is to align skill development with business priorities. This could also include incentives for downtown post-secondary campuses.

Innovation and creativity will be embedded into all City of Calgary spaces, according to Davison’s plan.

“Think Beakerhead in real-time, all the time,” the plan states.

Davison also wants to incentivize innovation in city operations to generate more opportunities.  This also includes changing procurement to push local options for goods.

He wants to reduce duplication in the government process, speed up access to services and fast-track permitting.

The plan highlights collaboration, along with transparency and accountability for all city partners. Mention of better partnerships with the province and federal governments are also included in Davison’s plan.

Stretch drive for policy

With 27 days (and 27 candidates for mayor), more policy announcements are likely ahead for Calgary mayoral candidates.

These latest economic announcements begin to distinguish the candidates from one another.

“While our history can make us nostalgic for the past, I have every confidence that we will rise up in a way that is more dynamic and sustainable than anything we have done before,” said Gondek.

“With bold leadership, we can leverage our strengths into an inclusive economic recovery for all.”

Davison said we can get back to the prosperity of Calgary that provides a future for young Calgarians.

“Our children aren’t choosing Calgary as their future, not because other places are cheaper or have greater natural beauty but because of the lifestyle and opportunities, those same opportunities Calgary used to offer,” Davison said.

“And I believe we can get back there…not by more taxes as some of my opponents on the left want, but also not by simply saying no to everything like my opponent on the far right wants to do. Building a better Calgary means a balance of what we can afford and focusing on the outcomes we want.”