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‘Just be worth the money’: Couns. Mian, McLean battle over Calgary budget surplus

In a Calgary four-year budget that noticeably lacked a certain drama that’s often attached to such contentious matters, one dispute registered on the final day.

It happened as Calgary city council was winding up amendments to their new, four-year budget document Friday afternoon. You may have seen something about it on social media but weren’t sure how things unfolded.

After council had already approved a series of amendments to use $65 million in surplus funds for a litany of programs and services, Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean proposed an amendment to use that cash for property tax relief instead.

It would have wiped out roughly 1/3 of the $200 million in additional funding for city programs and services.

McLean said Calgarians are already struggling with inflationary pressures. They are facing choices between food on their table, gas in their vehicles or charging their EV.

“I just thought it was probably more prudent that we reduce the surplus to offer relief from the base budget,” he said.

Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian took issue with McLean comments, citing a social media post he’d circulated earlier in the day. She said it was important that the motion gets put on the floor so it could be discussed transparently in public.

“We knew about the surplus. If you didn’t, then maybe I believe you when you said you didn’t understand the budget,” Mian said.

Coun. McLean attempted a point of order (though he wanted a point of privilege). That was denied.

‘Just be worth the money’: Mian

Coun. Mian said the surplus represented less than 1.5 per cent of the city’s budget. The city can’t run a deficit, and they don’t budget for a surplus, she said.

“I think it’s really disingenuous to the public when you go out and say the things that you do,” Mian said.

“It really bothers me that you’re recognized as a fiscal conservative on council, when the biggest contribution you’ve brought is to cut your own salary.

“Just be worth the money.”

McLean said the surplus wasn’t breaking news to him, but it was to Calgarians.

He said if Mian wanted to go on social media and justify the tax increase, she was free to do so.

“My point of view is that I would have preferred to have taken these reserves and lowered the tax increase – a little more fiscally responsible – and that’s my right to do so.”

This exchange led to an animated discussion during a procedural break in city council to muster up the final budget motion.

Afterwards, Mian said she wouldn’t back down from her comments. Though she said she respected McLean for coming to her to discuss and explain how her remarks offended him.

“I think what you saw was just some good democratic debate,” Mian said afterward.

What’s challenging, Mian said, is when we’re going out into the public without all of the information. She said the $65 million surplus wasn’t a surprise, nor was it hidden. She also said it’s not unheard of for cities to have small surpluses; she pointed to a $67 million surplus in Edmonton.

She said to suggest it’s a surprise, or the city’s “squirrelling away money inappropriately” is incorrect.

“That context to me is incredibly important in a world of misinformation,” Mian said.

McLean’s motion was defeated 2-13.