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MPs dive into debate over Calgary housing

Aitchison said that an upcoming notice of motion is well-intentioned, but 'doomed to fail.'

Ontario Conservative MP Scott Aitchison has penned an open letter urging Calgary city council to “be bold” with upcoming housing recommendations.

Atchison, the MP for Parry Sound – Muskoka, posted the open letter to X (formerly Twitter) on Tuesday morning, the day before a Notice of Motion comes to council calling for a pilot project to streamline approvals for land-use and development permits, particularly for those increasing density in Calgary neighbourhoods.

The letter, addressed to Mayor Jyoti Gondek and Members of Calgary City Council, notes that in the coming days, councillors have the chance to close the housing divide.

“We won’t close this divide with half-measures. We won’t get there with another pilot project,” Aitchison wrote.

“We won’t get there by ignoring the solutions that experts have already presented to you.”

Last week, Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, along with six other councillors, signed on to a Notice of Motion that would see a pilot project started to give a fee break and cut approval timelines in half for those developers who will apply for their land-use redesignation and development permit at the same time.

Coun. Sharp said, in doing so, they want to ensure that citizens stay a part of the process in their changing neighbourhoods.

“It’s actually really undemocratic to take them out of having a say on what’s going on in their community,” Sharp told LWC last week.

“This pilot program compels our City Administration to take a serious look at how we process land use and development applications, streamline them, and eliminate barriers to application by cutting some of that red tape. Time and cost of an application should not be a factor in getting more housing in our city.”

Calgary Centre MP weighs in after colleague’s remarks

Greg McLean, Conservative MP for Calgary Centre said he appreciated the opinion of Aitchison, but said there are differing ideas and debate on how Calgary can accomplish its housing needs. McLean penned a response statement later on Tuesday, noting that their party doesn’t have a policy supporting “blanket rezoning across the city, nor with respect to removing minimum parking requirements for developments.”

“Mr. Aitchison’s personal opinion should not weigh on the decisions Calgary Councillors have to make in the consideration of this matter,” McLean wrote.

While the Conservatives don’t have a rezoning policy, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre has said that he will link the federal infrastructure cash to qualify for federal grants. He also said that every funded transit station would have to be pre-permitted for high-rise apartments. Fellow MP Michelle Rempel Garner has also expressed support for the HATF recommendations. She posted her most recent thoughts to the X platform Tuesday night.

McLean, however, said that through debate and consultation with the public, they will arrive at a solution for affordability while managing the concerns and “unique needs of our city.”

“My Conservative colleagues and I – who represent Calgary ridings – are awaiting the report from the Task Force and more importantly, we are listening to the voices of Calgarians who want to share their vision for the future of our city and have input on how we build homes to meet the needs of Calgary families,” McLean wrote.

Aitchison says motion is ‘doomed to fail’

In the letter, Aitchison directly addresses those councillors who have signed on to the Notice of Motion that will come up for technical approval at Wednesday’s Executive Committee meeting.

He said it’s well-intentioned but “doomed to fail.”

“Over 60% of Calgary is zoned for single-detached housing only. How can you build for the future when restrictive zoning makes it illegal to grow,” Aitchison asked.

“If it’s illegal to build the homes people need, they won’t get built, no matter how fast you issue a building permit.”

Last week, in conversation with LWC, Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner, who will chair the Sept. 14 Community Development Committee meeting where Housing and Affordability Task Force (HATF) recommendations will be discussed, said that they’re looking at a wide range of options to increase housing stock in Calgary.

There are 34 recommendations in the HATF report.

“It’s about creating conditions; business-friendly, red-tape reduction, all the buzzwords that you want to use, but it’s really about creating, that policy environment,” Penner said.

Upzoning is only one of those and one that Penner said isn’t likely to have the biggest impact on more housing stock. It will create more housing, but when compared with potential new builds of higher-density housing or apartment blocks, she said the latter will be the city’s best opportunity to create more market housing.

“Our best opportunity to create more housing is actually in the high-rise kind of space,” Penner said.

Penner hopes the majority of other recommendations aren’t lost in the polarizing debate over things like city-wide upzoning or the elimination of parking minimums.

Calgarians can still sign up to speak at the Sept. 14 committee meeting where much of this will be discussed.  Penner said she wasn’t sure how the items would be broken up and voted on, or if they would be broken apart at all.

Meanwhile, Coun. Sharp has asked the Notice of Motion for the pilot project be brought to the Sept. 12 meeting of council for debate and potential approval. 

She told LWC last week she sees this as a necessary administrative step that should happen regardless of the debate on HATF recommendations on Sept. 14.

Housing and Affordability T… by Darren Krause