Talking to a crowd of Calgary’s business and organizational leaders over the lunch hour, Mayor Jyoti Gondek was speaking their language.
Predictive revenue modelling, addressing inflation and population growth, and the potential for lower property taxes were all things that Mayor Gondek brought in her speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
“I think that was a great message for the narrative to deliver today to the audience that was in the room,” said Deborah Yedlin, CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
“They’re very concerned about affordability. If there’s something that supports them going forward from a tax perspective that’s great news for them, and I think that was really important for everybody to hear at the event today.”
Mayor Gondek spoke about the difficult work that council has been performing to introduce predictive revenue modelling to the city.
“Local government only has one certain and predictable stream of funding and that is market based property assessment. We now examine the anticipated market values to determine whether we stand to bring in more or less in charge of property taxes,” the mayor said.
“I can tell you that this year, the predictive modeling that we have seen so far indicates that we will likely see an increase in value across most market classes, both on the residential and non residential side, which means that it will likely be possible for council to adjust the mill rate downwards.”
She said that the change, and the early good news for taxpayers, was a result of work done with the business community, leadership at the Chamber of Commerce, real estate experts, and an financial taskforce to look at empirical evidence from other jurisdictions.
“We all agreed that we need to change to be better decision makers,” Mayor Gondek said.
Mayor Gondek said that council wants to keep things affordable for Calgarians. That was one of the central questions posed by Yedlin to the mayor during the question and answer portion of the lunchtime address.
“We’ll continue to focus on those numbers and crunch them and make sure that they work,” the mayor said.
One of the issues promoted by the chamber during the budgetary process this year, is to ask for a 2.8:1 ratio for non-residential to residential property taxes, to reduce the tax burden on businesses.
Changing the story on the city
Mayor Gondek also reiterated her stance that Calgary needs to be better at promoting itself as a city.
“We need to be telling our own story, quite frankly,” she said.
“Calgarians need to craft and promote our own narrative rather than having faraway journalists paint a doom-and-gloom picture of our future.”
She said she has been engaging with reporters and editorial boards for the past year, inviting them to come to Calgary to actually learn about the city first hand.
“It has been a refreshing change to see some of those publications talk about us in a new light, and when word catches on about who we are, it travels fast,” the mayor said.
The Mayor spoke about how the changing perception of the city, and a successful wrap on HBO’s mega-series The Last of Us, has led to new connections to Hollywood.
“When Rose Lam wrapped production of The Last of Us, she made it her business to sing the praises of our city to all of her colleagues, and many producers and directors have done the same,” Mayor Gondek said.
“That’s why the reception that we received in Los Angeles earlier this month, from streamers and studios was so incredibly positive… We had two expressions of interest from two days of meetings and events, and that’s a pretty big deal when you go on a trip like that.”
Yedlin pointed to the need to return to telling a story about Calgary that makes people understand that it’s a vibrant, diverse city, but most importantly a city with opportunities.
“We just haven’t really been able to change the channel in terms of being a forward looking city with a lot of opportunity, which is what the city was in the 80s,” she said.
“People were attracted to it then it was young, it was vibrant, and we’re have to tell that story again. We are young, we are vibrant, we have a very young population, and there’s so much opportunity here in terms of the energy sector but far beyond that as well.”
Provincial migration numbers highest in years
Quarter 2 inter-provincial migration numbers released by Statistics Canada on Sept. 28, showed that Alberta had the highest population growth from migration seen since 2014/15.
“It is incredible to see that Alberta remains a place that people wish to come,” said Mayor Gondek.
“We are an incredible immigrant receiving city, but we also retain our immigrants because they find sense of community here.”
The mayor said there are institutions here that provide support. There are also strong immigrant communities that welcome newcomers.
She said that council has been looking at population growth, and included that into the upcoming budget to ensure they could continue to provide services.
Yedlin called the improved messaging on the city a self-fulfilling prophecy, driving newcomers and new businesses.
“As companies come here, their competitors start to look and say ‘hey they’re here, why aren’t we here?” And that’s going create its own momentum,” she said.
“That will help in terms of the messaging, but we do need to continue, we cannot become complacent. We have to look at all the different opportunities that we’ve got across the country.”
She said that Calgary needs to continue to market itself as a place for opportunity, and a city with great educational institutions that people can come study and stay.
Yedlin was less bullish on the province’s recent advertising campaign launched in Toronto, saying “we’ll see how that goes.”
“I think it’s I think it’s an important step forward, but it is frustrating when you go East and you start to talk about what’s going on in the city, and people say, ‘I had no idea.'”