Scott Dippel - CBC News - Posted: Jun 08, 2020 5:00 AM MT | Last Updated: June 8, 2020
I don't feel like the Mayor's answer at all, and would like to answer Mr. Dippel myself hereunder:
Q1: There are people in Calgary today saying we can't afford to spend billions on city projects like the Green Line, BMO Centre expansion, a new arena, a new field house, Arts Commons expansion, etc. They're not all saying we'll never build such things, but that we need to pause for now until we know more about our finances going forward. How do you respond to that?
Shaoli Wang: There are more and more people saying the same. I can't agree more. We are in a recession for over 6 years, only to see things aggravated with a once in a century global pandemic. We don't have that money to spend on these big projects, we can't afford now, and we can't afford them in the foreseeable future.
Q2: But that also carries with it an assumption that the Calgary level of growth that we've seen in let's say the last 50 years is going to continue. What if the scenario changes, that either Calgary grows much more slowly in the next 20, 30, 40 years or it just flattens out?
Shaoli Wang: That scenario is changing already, we are losing business since 2014, and we began to lose people already. We are having more homes listed on City's foreclosure list. The question now is not a what if, it is how we are going to face this challenge. It is not about how to attract people to Calgary, it is about how to keep Calgarians homed, how to keep our businesses running, and how to help Calgarians survive this recession.
We must remember, people come for a job, people stay with a home. When jobs lost to the recession, homes lost to the tax, you might wonder how dumb it will have to be to expect more people coming than leaving.
Q3: You've long spoken about our dependency as a city on property taxes as the way of funding things. But without any of that structural change that you've long sought actually happening, what do you see in the near to mid-term with our city's finances --- if now property values drop, if people can't afford to pay their taxes, businesses fail. Where's the money going to come from, or are we just going to borrow it?
Shaoli Wang: City had invested billions on businesses beyond the city, while the return goes unnoticeable, is there something missing? The public has yet to get access of those information.
The ifs can be omitted now. The fact is: property value dropped, downtown alone lost $15 billion, residential property lost 2% in just one year; People can't afford to pay their property taxes, over 55,000 families can't pay their home tax in 2020 alone, 536 homes are now on the City's foreclosure list; Businesses closed, we lost 1,490 businesses since 2013, the total number of businesses fell over 5,000 below a normal population-based projection to 2019, data of 2020 was probably worse.
Money comes less from everywhere, the only thing we must do in a typical recession is to tighten the budget, cut the spending and halt the billion-dollar projects. Shifting tax between people is not a solution, borrowing upon our $4 billion debt is just another scary idea.
Q4: And if that scenario does happen, how can a city cope with that?
Shaoli Wang: That scenario did happen, nobody can deny that. What I wonder is from what time on things had changed from a city for people to people for a city, and people got fleeced in summer and in winter all based on city's vision. When businesses tumbled, city simply shifted the burden to residents. This must be changed back to it should be: Be a government, act like a government, of the people, by the people, and for the people and not just powerful special interests and their lobbyists.
During this tough time, we must cut city's spending and lower the tax to relieve people's burden.
Q5: In a post-COVID world --- because we hope that science will find that vaccine --- what do you perceive for our downtown if even the existing companies that are there want more of their employees to work from home so that they can just save money on leasing less space?
Shaoli Wang: Companies are more competitive than the city when facing challenges, to have employees work from home help them lower the cost in this tough time, it also helps to keep their employees safe. This pandemic may not go away even after a vaccination, especially due to the continuously emerged new variants.
The City should stay with our people, help people and encourage people to do the right thing. If your question is about the City's position due to further loss of business tax, my answer is clear: what is good for people is good for people's city.
If businesses can find a way to survive this recession and global pandemic, their employee will find their home safe, and we will have more people stay here at home, the city will have a better chance to recover.
As to the loss of business property tax, I would see it from our people's perspective, we have more businesses found a way to survive and we have more people stay employed, it is good news, and we do no lose tax, we lose what we should lose - the numbers in the City's foreclosure list, so let it be, and we can focus on people's need, cut City's spending and lower the tax so that we can survive this recession all together.
Q6: On the entertainment district, if you have the public money as the anchor --- the new arena and the convention centre --- but if new hotels or new retail and other features of an entertainment district are not as sustainable in this market as we thought they were in the past, does that vision now need to be recast?
Shaoli Wang: The new arena and the convention centre are not likely to be as promising as they were in the past, otherwise there would not have had that intense negotiations between them and the City. Nobody could consciously promise an encouraging future for these projects, nobody was willing to take a little more share of liability. That was the message indicated through these years' long negotiation, and we must remember, a promised plebiscite was cancelled by the City, if not, the destiny of the arena deal might be as different as people have wished.
The new hotels, new retail and other features of an entertainment district are not likely to be as sustainable as before the pandemic, a year has passed, this pandemic is yet to show any sign of going away any time soon, we must be realistic. Cutting spending is a must during this tough time.
If there is room for the City to recast the vision after the election, the answer is a solid yes.
Q7: But the whole economic environment for it seems to have changed. Are you worried about the retail and hotel pieces, in terms of being attracted to the district if the market isn't as strong as projected pre-COVID?
Shaoli Wang: The market will for sure be weaker than pre-Covid for some time, the Covid's effect may last for a while even if vaccination turns out as expected.
Q8: And, of course, back to your jobs argument, it means you don't delay these things now. Our timing could be very good and we get the jobs in the meantime which we need. So let's proceed?
Shaoli Wang: To tax people and spend people's money when people are struggling in a worst recession of a century, is the worst thing a government can do.
When both the provincial and federal government are providing billions to help people, the bullheaded municipal government chose to take the very opposite position -- tax people more, tax businesses more, pressed the number of businesses 1,490 lower, calmly listed 536 of Calgarians' homes for foreclosure, ignored the 55,000 more homes who have failed to pay their hefty property in 2020 alone and are leaving their kids' future onto the City's to-be-homeless list, adamantly pushed for multiple billion dollar projects against people's will without a tangible plan, without any budget control, mindfully vacating thousands and thousands of homes in town allegedly for future new comers.
These City Councils are not building our future, they are depredating our future, suffocating our homeowners and businesses year after year, for their big egos in their so-called vision.
Calgarians are willing to have fair shared sacrifice, we are not as stupid as the city Hall thinks we are. Calgarians are bright, intelligent, caring, loving people, and we can handle any and every plebiscite, a binding plebiscite would be more preferrable so that to help our out-of-touched City Councils.
By the way, please do not take it wrong, none of us are Keynesians of whichever fallacy. A proud Keynesian would pay people with his own money to dig the hole, a decent Keynesian would use his own money and dig the hole himself, only the insane would grab our money, have others dig the hole, and go even further to brag that they created jobs.