3 Years of progress toward a better Calgary

The following article was cross-posted from www.nenshi.ca (Mayor Nenshi's re-election campaign website) once the 2013 election was over.

In October 2010, I campaigned on 12 better ideas for Calgary. Each idea included tangible changes that would make Calgary an even better city in which to live and work, and I'm proud that your City Council and I have made real progress on every one of them.

Accountability is incredibly important to me, so I have regularly reviewed those original better ideas to see how we've done. In most cases, we've completed (or nearly completed) entire ideas. In others, we still have more work to do and lasting improvements will take time.

Below is my latest status update on those original better ideas plus some other good ideas we discovered along the way. It’s a sizable document, but it’s hardly everything your City Council has done in three years (for that, you may want to watch the archived videos of our Council meetings, which, incidentally, was one of those original better ideas).

-- Naheed

Better Idea #1
Calgary will be a city where secondary suites provide a safe and legal option for affordable housing.


To use a football analogy, we’ve had several first downs, but have yet to score the touchdown. Despite survey after survey showing the vast majority of Calgarians favour change, and an unprecedented coalition of business groups, students, anti-poverty organizations, faith groups, and developers urging action, the majority of Council members declined to support the legalization and regulation of these suites in all communities throughout the city.

Nevertheless, Council has made several steps to make secondary suites an option for more Calgarians (those several first downs). We have significantly reduced the regulatory burden for the homes where suites are already legally zoned by making the permit process far more efficient and have reduced the approval time for a permit from 100 to 20 days. Furthermore, all new communities are zoned to allow for secondary suites. But there is much more work to be done on this file.

Better Idea #2
Improve the audit system and bring more transparency to City Hall.

A well resourced, independent City Auditor is necessary for good government at City Hall and government transparency with the public.

★ Status: DONE

We hired a new City auditor, gave him the resources and freedom to do his job, and implemented a new Audit Committee structure which includes more members of the public, providing greater public oversight. The City Auditor’s mandate was reviewed in 2011 and his independence confirmed. Since then the City auditor has delivered a number of thoughtful reports that has improved public services and saved taxpayers money. The Cellular Phone & Mobile Devices Audit, for example, was very helpful in finding savings and developing best practices inside City Administration. The City Auditor, Todd Horbasenko , resigned for personal reasons in mid-2013 and I look forward to working with the new City Auditor, Kathy Palmer.

Better Idea #3
Calgary will be the best place in Canada to start and grow a business.

Cut red tape and administrative overhead by implementing a culture of customer service throughout The City and reforming policy and bylaws.


We launched Transforming Government (transforminggov.ca), an initiative to create a culture of constant improvement at The City of Calgary and making The City a more citizen focused organization. Calgarians may have already seen the Transforming Government stamp on a number of great projects that have been implemented over these past three years including the Green Cart Pilot, better ticket vending machines for Calgary Transit, the Food Truck Pilot, the route #300 airport bus, and new online services from the e-government initiative. We also set up the Council Innovation Fund to finance pilot projects and new initiatives at the City.

We implemented the Cut Red Tape initiative (cutredtape.ca), as a pilot project. We did three phases where we asked City of Calgary employees, the business community, and the general public respectively, about what red tape could be cut and how processes could be improved. We received hundreds of great suggestions and have made many changes like more online services, easier recreation registration, and improving 3-1-1. We have saved over a million dollars and over 33,000 hours of citizens’ and city staffs’ time. We are still working on implementing many other cut red tape improvements and we are planning to embed the processes developed during Cut Red Tape initiative into City procedures to help create a culture of continual improvement.

Create a fair and equitable tax burden by investigating merging the business tax and the non-residential property tax and making a clearer link between taxes paid and services received.

★ Status: DONE

On April 9, 2012, Council passed a motion to consolidate the business tax and non-residential property tax starting in 2013 (to be phased in over several years). We will no longer have a standalone business tax, just like most other major cities in Canada, making Calgary a more competitive place to have a business.

Invest in the urban fabric by building safe, welcoming, and clean urban environments and creating complete communities.


A lot has been done to improve our urban fabric over the past three years. The Community Investment Fund established funds for both life-cycle maintenance of existing community assets, such as fire halls, libraries, and pools, and for the construction of these facilities in new areas of the City. Four major recreation centres are scheduled for construction in the Southeast and Northwest quadrants as well as construction of a new Central Library in the East Village (www.calgarynewcentrallibrary.ca). Other projects, like the National Music Centre and the C-Space King Edward School Arts Incubator, have been strongly supported. We’ve also invested in safe communities & vibrant infrastructure which is detailed in Better Ideas #11 & #12.

Better Idea #4
Convenient and quick access to the airport.

The airport tunnel must be built immediately.


This project is nearing completion and is on time and on budget and should open around May 2014. This important project will create multiple ways for citizens to get to the airport, maintain the option of building a future LRT connection to the airport, provide better bus-rapid transit access and provide a new east-west corridor in North Calgary.

Public transit options that go directly to the airport must be improved.

★ Status: DONE

The Route 100 bus, direct from McKnight-Westwinds station to the airport, was launched and is a permanent route. The Route 300 bus, from Downtown to the airport via Centre Street, was launched as a Council Innovation pilot project and was successful and is now a permanent route. Once Airport Trail is completed, there will be even more transit options available to citizens traveling to and from the airport. There is a plan is to institute an express bus through the Airport Trail Tunnel on opening day, with the right-of-way preserved for a future LRT link.

Improve the relationship between the Calgary Airport Authority and the people of Calgary.


Although the negotiations were somewhat contentious, both parties now work closely together on the Airport Trail Tunnel/Runway extension project. The Calgary Airport Authority staff also worked quickly to accommodate the Route 300. However, there is still more work to be done to make the relationship between The City and the Calgary Airport Authority more effective.

Better Idea #5
Calgary Transit must be a preferred choice for Calgarians.

Remove the $3 park-and-ride fee.

★ Status: DONE

The scrapping of the fee came into effect April 1, 2011. People still have the opportunity to reserve a parking stall at an LRT station and the quantity and price of reserved spaces is continually being adjusted based on demand.

Create a Transit Riders Advisory Group.

★ Status: DONE

The Advisory Group consist of customers representing a cross-section of Calgarians, of varying abilities, ages, and backgrounds. The Advisory Group has been invaluable in implementing new customer-focused initiatives such as more legible LRT maps. They also contributed substantially to the customer experience section of the RouteAhead plan.

Use technology to improve the lives of passengers.

★ Status: DONE

Calgary Transit is in the midst of implementing many technological improvements to the transit system. All LRT ticket machines now give change and accept credit and debit payment. Next-train arrival information is now available on all LRT platforms, and GPS installation on all buses is nearing completion which will facilitate real-time arrival information for customers. Calgary Transit has also become a leader in using social media (i.e.: Twitter) to communicate directly with customers about service disruptions and to share other important information. In 2012, we set-up a dedicated fund to improve LRT reliability.

Plan tomorrow’s system today.

★ Status: DONE

The RouteAhead plan, our 30 year strategic plan for transit in Calgary is now complete and approved by City Council. This plan sets out direction for Calgary Transit on customer service objectives, service delivery objectives, long-term capital infrastructure and network plans (including $13 billion in capital investment over 30 years), and fiscal strategies. All of this is to ensure Calgary Transit provides the best possible service for our citizens.

Implementation of RouteAhead is already underway on a number of fronts, including the recently announced purchase of 60 new LRT cars, for a cost of $200 million. These new LRT cars will begin to replace aging LRT cars that have been around since the inception of the system in 1981 as well as expand the capacity of the system and alleviate crowding. This includes the introduction of four-car LRT service by 2015. Work is currently underway to expand platforms across the entire system.

Better Idea #6
Political campaigns should be about the best ideas and not the most money.

Tough new rules are needed for how election campaigns are financed.


Campaign finance rules are governed by the provincial government. In 2012, the Minister for Municipal Affairs proposed changes to the Local Authorities Elections Act (LAEA) which made some minor changes to the campaign finance rules but not enough for effective reform.

I have proposed five primary reforms that I believe will create much more fair and transparent elections:

  • Allowing donations to be made to a campaign no earlier than within one year of the municipal election (currently donations can be made anytime);
  • Lowering the maximum individual financial contribution to $2,500 (currently the limit is $5,000 per year);
  • Imposing limits on spending to 65 cents per resident for Mayoralty and Councilor elections initially, then growing with inflation (currently there is no spending limit);
  • Mandating that campaign surpluses be given to the municipality, returned to donors, or donated to charity after each election (currently campaign surpluses can either be carried over to future elections or donated to charity); and
  • Requiring disclosure of all donors and donations prior to the election (currently disclosure is only required following the election).

I will continue to lobby the provincial government for these changes, or, in their absence, for the City of Calgary to be able to set its own rules.

Better Idea #7
Calgary will be a city of sustainable, walkable, livable, complete communities.

Make Calgary a city of communities that reflects the vision of imagineCalgary.


To implement imagineCALGARY’s vision, we are working to improve and support revitalization of established communities (including the centre city), making established communities more attractive for young families, and ensuring that new communities are sustainable in every sense: environmentally, socially and financially. The City has almost finished developing a new Growth Management Framework which will align investment of our limited resources with our long-term vision.

In addition, Council has launched a comprehensive process to transform the planning system to make it easier to build the vision of the city set out in imagineCALGARY. The Transforming Planning initiative will result in a planning system that achieves better outcomes, is more collaborative, breaks down silos within The City, and is more transparent and efficient. Extensive consultation with stakeholders began in the Fall of 2012 and implementation of a new planning system will begin in 2014.

Reduce the taxpayer burden by reducing subsidies for growth on the edges of the city.


Council passed a new development levy agreement in 2011 that reduced the subsidy that taxpayers provide to new suburban developments by half. These levies on new community development help pay for services to these communities like water and sewage, roads, fire halls, and parks. Decreasing the subsidy helps move the City toward recovering a much greater proportion (but not yet all) of the cost of developing and servicing new communities. My long-term goal remains to eliminate the subsidy completely.

Better Idea #8
City Council will be more transparent, more efficient, and easier for citizens to access and engage.

Adjust the schedule for Council meetings so that the public portion occurs in the evening.


This schedule change was proposed to Council in 2011, it was reviewed and Council decided not to adopt it, however we did over the term use many other methods to improve civic engagement with Council including a wide-ranging public consultation process during the budget deliberations which engaged some 20,000 Calgarians. The City also implemented a new process to allow citizens to book a timeslot to participate in the public hearings on the budget.

In addition, the Mayor’s Citizen Engagement Committee co-hosted We Should Know City Hall. This was an opportunity for Calgarians to get an orientation about their municipal government so they can better participate in the political process in the future.

Publish more detailed minutes of Council meetings with video links for discussion and Council member voting records.

★ Status: DONE

The new Electronic Legislative Management Solution (ELMS) makes it easier for citizens and staff to find Council and Committee meeting agendas, minutes, and video of Council Meeting and Standing Policy Committee meetings. Video minutes of Council and Standing Policy Committee meetings started on May 6th, 2011 and are accessible 24 hours a day online.

Publish the Mayor and Aldermen’s detailed expenses and logs of whom they meet on the web.

★ Status: DONE

I post my expenses online quarterly and meeting logs online monthly. This spring Council adopted new ethics, transparency, gifts and disclosure policies that will apply to all of Council next term.

Focus Council on the right things through better organization and information.


Council reorganized its Standing Policy Committees in 2011. This included the creation of the new Priorities and Finance Committee. This reorganization increased the efficiency and accountability of committees. We also revamped the format for reports going to Council so they are more focused on the critical information Council needs to make good decisions. Our conversations with the Province about a new City Charter, as described below, may also allow Council to better delegate authority and keep small issues from taking up time at full Council meetings.

Launch a review of the pay and perks that Council members receive.

★ Status: DONE

Council pay was reviewed through the Council Compensation Review Committee, a committee of citizens at arms length from Council.

Better Idea #9
Calgarians will be able to get around easily by any mode of transportation.

Maximize the efficiency of our road network.


Council has implemented a new snow and ice removal program with significantly higher annual investment. Clearing is now faster and safer, and the clearing of all residential roads when warranted is now a permanent part of the program (prior to this, residential roads were not cleared all winter). The new program includes parking restrictions following significant snowfall for faster snow removal on main transportation arteries. Parking bans during the 2011–2012 winter allowed priority 1 and 2 roads to be cleared 30 per cent quicker than before. In addition, Council created a reserve fund that allows unspent portions of the snow removal budget in low snowfall years to be used in years with higher-than-normal snowfall.

We are working on, or have just finished, a number of road improvements including the now-completed widening of 52nd Street S.E. and other widening projects at Shaganappi Trail/Beddington Tail/Country Hills Boulevard in the north, and Metis Trail in the northeast. In addition, work is continuing on 96th Avenue/Airport Trail to make it free-flowing, and intersection improvements have been completed at Shaganappi Trail and John Laurie Boulevard N.W. to ease congestion. We are also building the necessary links to the Southeast Ring Road, which the Province expects to open on October 1.

Pending final Council approval of our next ten year Transportation Capital Plan, Investing in Mobility, new interchanges will be funded, including severe congestion points at Macleod and 162nd Avenue ($55 million), and Glenmore Trail and Ogden Road ($102 million). The Glenmore and Ogden interchange will also dramatically improve travel times for transit in the Southeast, particularly the SE BRT.

The City is also experimenting with targeted congestion solutions such as the recently revised lights at Macleod Trail and Lake Fraser Gate during the morning rush hour. In the last budget adjustments, Council decided to allocate moderate funding for similar initiatives that will maximize the efficiency of our existing network.

Revise parking policies and practices.


The new leadership at the Calgary Parking Authority has made significant progress in making it a more citizen focused organization. This includes innovations such as real-time online tracking of parking space availability, and new programs such as $5 Fridays at various downtown parkades.

In 2013, Council approved a new on-street parking strategy for downtown that is more responsive to demand. Most locations throughout the downtown, at various times, will see a reduction in price to encourage people to park in locations that are currently underutilized. This more nimble demand-based on-street parking system will make downtown more easily accessible and affordable to visit. More work is needed with respect to short stay and long stay parking strategies.

Invest in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.


In June 2011, Council passed a new Cycling Strategy that sets the stage for better commuter cycling infrastructure in our city. Council also agreed to fund the modest operating and capital requirements and hired a full-time cycling co-ordinator to implement the strategy. The first separated cycle lane in Calgary has just been completed on 7th Street SW in the downtown core. The 10th Street NW bike lane has been reviewed and will be improved. We have increased investment in improving the pedestrian environment when the City funded corridor improvements that will improve mobility for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. For example, $3.5 million will be used for upgrades to the Eighth Street underpass between downtown and the Beltline, which is used by more than 10,000 Calgarians each day.

Council also created a new policy to improve pedestrian safety beside downtown construction sites. New construction projects must provide protective hoarding to keep sidewalks open during construction.

Better Idea #10
Calgary will reduce the number of people living in poverty and ensure opportunity for all.

Develop a community-based 10-year strategy to reduce poverty.

★ Status: DONE

On July 25th, 2011 Council passed my motion to develop the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative. The working group set-up to develop a plan was made up of people from the public, private and non-profit sectors. The group delivered their plan to Council in May 2013 and Council has adopted it. To learn more about this important project visit www.enoughforall.ca.

Streamline procedures for agencies accessing Family and Community Support Services (FCSS).


FCSS plays a valuable role in serving our community and is a key part of the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative that will improve services to those in need. Council has increase its funding commitment to FCSS and, we continue to lobby the Province to maintain and increase its funding commitment to FCSS.

Create stronger, more resilient communities.


We have improved transit service and reduced the price of the low-income transit pass. In addition, efforts like lowering restrictions on secondary suites and developing other affordable housing alternatives helps create stronger, more resilient communities. In 2012, Attainable Housing Calgary created an inventory of 143 homes for middle-income Calgarians. Another 200 are expected to be finished in 2013.

Better Idea #11
Calgary will be a city where every neighbourhood is a safe neighbourhood.

Work with leadership at Calgary Police Service to increase community policing.


Our focus on prevention and community-based policing is a very large part of our historically-low crime rates (lowest since the 1970s on many measures). These programs were protected and funding increased during the term allowing the Calgary Police Service to hire an additional 122 police officers over three years. In addition, the Calgary Police Service consolidated several functions into its new Westwinds campus which opened this spring) and is implementing a new deployment model to reduce costs and increase operational efficiency.

Expand community partnerships to address the root causes of crime.


This one will always be a work-in-progress, but the Calgary Police Service and The City have established and continue to expand a number of innovative programs focused on crime prevention and youth rehabilitation with community and government partners, including The City’s Community & Neighbourhood Services, the Calgary Board of Education, the Calgary Catholic School District and Family and Community Support Services.

Make crime prevention a priority for other city departments.


Council passed a motion in early 2011 directing the various departments in The City handling enforcement to work more closely together. Crime Prevention through Environmental Design was integrated into Council’s Fiscal Plan for Calgary, and our administration is working hard to ensure this principle is incorporated into all new developments.

Develop effective provincial and federal partnerships.


We continue to work with the provincial and federal governments on crime prevention, advocating for increased funding and changes to legislation to keep citizens safe. We were successful in 2011 in having the Province reconsider their $15 fee to access the automobile registry, saving Calgary taxpayers millions of dollars. On the federal government front, the new focus on crime has not yet translated into support for boots on the street, but we will continue to press our case. In 2012, I wrote on behalf of Council to the federal government regarding the City’s concerns with medical marijuana and with suburban marijuana grow-ops. We need greater cooperation and information sharing between the federal and municipal government so we can protect citizens better.

Better Idea #12
Calgary will be a City where its citizens are enriched by outstanding libraries, recreation amenities, and a vibrant cultural scene.

Develop a strategy to provide 21st century library service for Calgarians.


Work is progressing rapidly on the new Central Library. The City and Calgary Municipal Land Corporation have fully funded the $245 million new Central Library, which will be built in the East Village. Extensive public consultation is now complete and the project architect will be selected by October 2013. You can keep track of the progress at calgarynewcentrallibrary.ca.

As well, the new Community Investment Fund secured the annual capital required for three new library branches and we have budgeted the operational funding to run them. It’s not too much to say that between the new Central Library and the new branches, this is the most significant investment in Calgary’s libraries in a generation.

Invest in our communities through sustainable funding.


The Community Investment Fund (CIF) is the first-ever sustainable fund dedicated to community infrastructure. Half of the fund is designated for the maintenance and upkeep of facilities like parks, recreation centres, fire halls, and libraries; the other half is earmarked for desperately needed new facilities and equipment. The three new library branches, the four new recreation centres and protective equipment for our firefighters have been funded through the CIF, as well as part of the funding for the new Central Library.

We still have a large infrastructure deficit to address, but this new fund gets us a long way there. For example, with the fund The City has made significant and much-needed upgrades to the Shouldice Aquatic Centre and the Frank McCool pool in addition to environmental upgrades and renovations to a number of recreation facilities.

Support strategic investments to increase access to sports and recreation facilities.


Since taking office, nine new sheets of ice have opened, as has the Genesis Centre for Community Wellness (with pools and indoor soccer fields). To give credit where it’s due, this is was the result of the previous Council’s focus on sports and recreation and the incredibly hard work of community members over the past several years. Going forward, the Community Investment Fund will allow us to invest in new facilities across the city, such as soccer and football facilities, and upgrade many older facilities.

Despite the sudden withdrawal of $100 million of funding from the Government of Canada in December 2011, Council approved the construction of four new recreation centres; three are to be built in southeast Calgary and one is to be built in the city’s northwest. This has resulted in The City taking on more debt, but we have identified non-property tax revenue sources for paying that debt off quickly.

Make it easier for artists to live and work in Calgary.


Council approved zoning changes to allow live-work studios in industrial areas. Through the Calgary Arts Development Authority and projects such as C-Space’s new arts incubator at King Edward School, we are making significant strides in this area. We are also working with the Province on building a state-of-the art film and television studio to keep our talented film industry here in Calgary.

Other Items

Progress was also made on many other items that were not found in the original 12 Better Ideas. A sampling of these items is below...

Support strategies to attract and retain global talent and investment in Calgary.

Through Calgary Economic Development (CED), Council has supported the successful “Be Part of the Energy” campaign, which has included successful investment and labour recruitment missions across Canada, the United States, China and Europe. For example, CED went on labour recruitment missions to Ireland and Scotland in 2012 resulting in more than 1,000 applications to Calgary-based companies. CED also participated in trade and investment missions in China, Australia, Colombia and the United States (Atlanta), which resulted in over a dozen significant leads, joint ventures and investment in Calgary.

Raise the care and attention that Council and Administration pays to restraining expenditures and continually seeking efficiencies.

Council fundamentally changed the budget process by directing Administration to prepare a budget with aggressive cost efficiencies and a low tax rate increase while maintaining front-line services. The result was a budget with $108 million in cost savings that maintained our property taxes as amongst the lowest in Canada.

Implement a program of ongoing in-depth service reviews using a zero-based review philosophy.

City Council and Administration completed the first department-focused zero-based budget review in 2012. This review of Fleet Services yielded 29 recommendations (24 of which were adopted) for improvements to services efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Fleet Services is now developing an implementation plan for the recommendations and will quantify how much time and money was saved by the changes. The City will continue with zero-based budget reviews for all City departments, with the Parks and Roads departments as the next ones to undergo this process.