Mayor Dave Bronconnier of Calgary will not run in October's election. Photo: Canwest
Calgary has big shoes to fill. You’ll notice I said ‘shoes’, not ‘cowboy boots’, the clichéd footwear so often associated with Calgary. That’s because, thanks largely to the innovative vision and get-it-done cojones of three-term mayor, Dave Bronconnier, Calgary has gone from being a western Canadian boomtown to a sophisticated city that’s as well regarded for its environmental policies and programs as it is for the strength of its economy.
No doubt to the surprise of many eco-conscious Vancouverites, Calgary is recognized as a world leader in many areas of greenhouse gas reduction; water management; urban forest and wetlands protection; sustainable energy development; and for its wildly-successful light rail transit system.
And by the way, this system is the only one in North America to be 100 percent wind-powered. Again at the urging of Mayor Bronconnier, Calgary became the first city in the country to commit to having all municipal services and facilities operating entirely on green energy by 2012.
Not bad for the city that fossil fuel built. Mayor Dave has moved Calgary forward on all fronts.
In the past decade, as the population soared, and newcomers arrived at a rate that was compared to Shanghai or Dubai, the stresses and strains on Calgary’s infrastructure were starting to show.
So Mayor Dave went on a mission: he made ‘infrastructure deficit’ a household word. He pressured, cajoled, and shamed both the federal and provincial governments into re-negotiating long-standing tax revenue sharing agreements to give cities a more equitable share.
It worked. Billions of Calgary’s tax dollars came back from the Province and Ottawa, to be used to build the roads, bridges, transit lines, rec centres, libraries, arenas and soccer fields the growing city needed.
Mayor Dave doubled the capacity of the light rail transit system; introduced a first-in-Canada financing structure to kick-start the rejuvenation of an area of inner city blight; and assigned some of the dividends from the municipally-owned electrical utility to buy and preserve huge green areas on the city’s borders to be developed as regional parks comparable to Stanley Park or Manhattan’s Central Park.
He improved accountability and access to municipal government services by introducing Canada’s first 3-1-1 system: no more calls for city information or services could be left unanswered, ignored, or lost in voice mail hell. The system has already recorded more than three million calls.
And he did it all while keeping Calgary’s property taxes the lowest of any major city in the country. But Mayor Bronconnier recently announced that he would not be running for a fourth term. So the political jockeying has shifted into overdrive.
(Unlike Vancouver, Calgary’s municipal politics are not party-based. Members of Council are elected on a ward system, and the Mayor is chosen by city-wide ballot. Most of those who get elected are fiscally conservative and – surprisingly, given this is where both Stephen Harper and the Reform Party cut their political teeth - very progressive on social issues. Mayor Dave was actually a Liberal (gasp!) at one time in a Tory blue town.)
So far, with most of the present and former Council members “considering” running, it’s a case of “you decide, then I’ll decide”. Several business and community leaders have also indicated they’re “exploring the possibility”, but have not yet made a go/no go decision.
This will be only the second Calgary mayoralty race in more than 20 years in which no incumbent was entered, so the field is wide open, and likely to get very crowded in the next few weeks. We’ll keep you posted as the race heats up.
- post by Tricia Sirrs. Tricia is a former Calgary resident, now living in Vancouver, who has been working with the Mayor's office for the City of Calgary.