Alberta’s two main political provincial party leaders shared their ideas for the City of Calgary with a mayoral moderator at the Calgary Economic Development’s Report to the Community.
While it wasn’t a debate, it certainly began painting a picture of what Alberta’s upcoming election could look like in Battleground Calgary.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek was in the questioner’s chair as Premier Danielle Smith and Official Opposition leader Rachel Notley answered policy questions – separately.
A couple of the questions were focused directly on Calgary, specifically on incentives and investment to spur economic growth and diversification in the city, and downtown revitalization.
“We think we need to have a series of efforts to incent investment, particularly investment in emerging businesses and emerging sectors,” Notley said.
She once again credited the UCP for the film and tax credit but said they’d tack on a digital media tax credit. The latter wasn’t included in the province’s Budget 2023. Notley also mentioned something called the Alberta’s Future Tax credit, which she said would counter incentives outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States.
Notley also teased a “regulatory fast pass” to reward “those good actors in the investment world, proponents who have a good record of corporate citizenship.” Finally, she mentioned the importance of reinvesting in post-secondary.
Smith countered with a reduction of corporate tax, down to eight per cent. She said that it helped generate more corporate tax than ever. Smith also cited her government’s commitment to red tape reduction.
“That sends another signal to business that you want to make it easy for them to get started so that they can start earning their first dollar of revenue,” she said.
Smith also pointed to the film tax credit and said that she’s asked tech and innovation Minister Nate Glubish to establish a digital media tax credit.
Almost as a throwaway comment later in the interview, Smith mentioned conversations she’s had on the potential for an art-focused tax credit built in the image of the film tax credit.
Leaders talk downtown revitalization
Smith didn’t directly address the downtown revitalization question posed by Mayor Jyoti Gondek. Gondek specifically referenced the investment the city has made in the downtown revitalization and asked what the province would do to match those investments.
The City of Calgary and province have been somewhat at odds over the handling of Calgary’s downtown. That’s despite a provincial task force dedicated to determining ideal steps for downtown revitalization. The City has asked for matching funds, and the province has yet to step up, saying they weren’t sure of the city’s needs.
Smith instead said that she loved what the private sector has done to rejuvenate some of the buildings like the Edison and Ampersand.
“When you get the economics right, and people see that this is the place to be, they will come and they will do that kind of investment,” she said.
“We know that we’ve got to continue to ensure that we have the best business environment.”
From there, she talked about the other economic successes going on around Calgary and the surrounding area.
Notley appreciated the city’s efforts to rethink the downtown, and she pledged matching funds for both the conversions and to help draw a post-secondary campus for the area. Calgary already has multiple schools represented in downtown: UCalgary, Bow Valley College, SAIT, MRU.
“More holistically, and you identified this in your question, we need to look at how we get people downtown,” Notley said.
“We need to look at how we can increase vibrancy and we need to look at how we deal with public safety and the sense of safety.”
To that end, Notley said they pledged 8,500 affordable homes, some of which would be in the downtown. She also mentioned the need for public safety.
Mayor Gondek, long a proponent of reform to municipal finance certainty, asked about predictable funding from the province.
“Municipalities are the order of government that is actually closest to its constituents,” she said.
“But we are also that order of government that has the least amount of control over funding.”
Gondek asked what could be done with municipal property taxes to ensure the city could meet the needs of citizens.
Notley said she didn’t think there was a way to impact property taxes in Calgary.
“What we can do is give you a better line of sight around how much you need to get from property taxes,” she said.
“And so that then has implications for your other revenue streams.”
Smith immediately referenced the amount of money that the province scoops via the education portion of the property tax bill.
“I’m having the same battle with Ottawa that I feel like they take more than they need,” Smith said.
“Then they do not give back to Alberta as much as we end up contributing. If they do, they give it back with conditions and I think if I’m trying to be consistent that we shouldn’t be doing that to our municipalities.”
She said that imbalance needed to be corrected. Previously, Mayor Gondek has said she’d favour this, as long as it didn’t impact other provincial funding to municipalities.
After the interview, Notley said she didn’t buy the notion that money would be returned.
“Well, honestly, I don’t buy it. Certainly, there’s no provision for that within the budget,” she said.
“So, I think it’s not actually a statement that anybody can or should take to the bank.”