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State of the City: Mayor Gondek delivers address to Calgary’s business community

Mayor Jyoti Gondek delivered her annual State of the City address to Calgary’s business community Oct. 26, addressing how the perceived vulnerabilities of Calgary’s economy are not the opposite of strength, but rather opportunities.

Speaking directly to how perception of the city has changed dramatically—from being asked if Calgary was the “Detroit of the North” as one Globe and Mail headline put it—to being a recognized leader in North American transformation.

Still, the mayor said, profound challenges exist that have sapped the advantages that Calgary has traditionally held in affordability, issues with attracting sufficient job talent, and being asked to take on responsibilities that are within the portfolios of the provincial and federal government.

“I think sometimes we look at vulnerability and we despair. So, the message that I wanted to deliver today is we’ve been through times of vulnerability, we still exist in a time of vulnerability, but there’s hope. That hope translates to some really great ideas and some really great actions,” said Mayor Gondek.

In her speech hosted by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, she outlined many of the actions that the City of Calgary has undertaken to address recovery in the downtown core, increasing public safety, and giving Calgarians affordable ways to address climate issues—including attracting federal funding for the electrification of Calgary Transit’s bus fleet, and reducing building GHG emissions through the Clean Energy Improvement Program and the Downtown Energy Retrofit Grant.

Speaking to the plans for the next two years, Mayor Gondek said that her priorities were to solidify Calgary’s role as the strongest inland port in the nation, championing the creative industries to continue their growth in the city, and to ensure that Calgary’s businesses are seen as the safest and most secure energy providers by championing their transformation efforts and encouraging further industry innovation.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek delivers her state of the city speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce at the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary on Thursday, October 26, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Improved non-residential tax ratio for businesses

Coming up to November’s budget deliberations, she said that she would be working to convince her council colleagues to move on a non-residential tax ratio that takes Calgary from the “bottom of the list for being business friendly.”

“We can fix that as a council, we just have the willingness to do it. We just need one more vote compared to last year and we can actually do the right thing for the business community,” she said.

“When it comes to the proportional share, or the ratio between non-residential and residential properties, what we’re seeing in other jurisdictions is a ratio of two-to-one, 2.5-to-one, and we are not even close to that. We are hovering upwards of 4.6 to one.”

Mayor Gondek said that a significant reason to reduce that burden was to avoid provincial intervention into municipal affairs, which is triggered at a five-to-one ratio.

“I’m actually quite interested in not seeing that happen. As a municipality, we should take care of our own affairs. So to be responsible, and fiscally responsible in particular, we need to make that shift this year,” she said.

That message of being able to take care of our own affairs as a city extended to her reaction to federal representatives speaking at the recent World Petroleum Conference in Calgary.

“We were hosting the world, and I will tell you what I expected: I expected from our federal representative language around ‘this country believes in providing a safe, secure, reliable energy source, thanks for coming, have a great week,” the mayor said.

“We got a very lengthy scolding and ultimatum of if you don’t do what we tell you to you better watch. I was shocked, embarrassed, and just a little bit cranky about that. What it actually fuelled is Premier Smith and myself getting up there to deliver very different remarks than what we had prepared, and absolutely telling the world that this is the place where transformation is happening.”

Mayor Jyoti Gondek delivers her state of the city speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce at the Telus Convention Centre in Calgary on Thursday, October 26, 2023. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Important points made said Yedlin

Calgary Chamber of Commerce CEO Deborah Yedlin said that Mayor Gondek touched on some important points for the business community, including that of the response to the federal government about the energy industry, and addressing affordability, the infrastructure gap, and the momentum for downtown conversion projects.

“Housing affordability has been our calling card for a long time, and to see that advantage erode is something that we don’t want to see, especially as we continue to look to diversify our economy to attract talent, capital and opportunity for other parts of the world,” Yedlin said.

“It’s incumbent on city council to really focus on that. Really, that part means that they need to think about the property tax issue and how do we make sure that there’s a rebalancing so that we can continue to fund what we need to do to address that affordability issue.”

Yedlin said that the issue of rebalancing the non-residential property taxes has been a long-standing one within Calgary, and that issue has led to perceptions of the city being seen as less competitive from a tax perspective.

“Housing affordability is one thing, but we want businesses to come here as well. If they look at that ratio, they’re going to say ‘actually, I have other opportunities, and I’m going to go to a different jurisdiction if we don’t see rebalancing,” she said.

“We’re very committed to seeing that ratio come down to 2.8-to-one. Right now we’re looking at a number that could be forecast to be 4.69-to-one in 2024.”

She said that the Chamber was committed to promoting that 2.8-to-one ratio, and weren’t going to deviate from it.

Addressing the future aspects of Mayor Gondek’s plan for the next two years, Yedlin said that she wants further action taken to address the skills gap employers are seeing, and for the city to continue the momentum on downtown revitalization.

“It doesn’t matter when you’re a small business or a large business, we need to continue to attract talent to the city. Every business is talking about the need to attract labour. There’s a skills mismatch. We need to have more people come to the city. We need to look at the skilled trades. So, I think broadly speaking, the speech was what we needed to hear,” Yedlin said.