By Riley Hill
On Monday, Oct. 7, mayoral candidates gathered in the MacHall ballroom to pitch their platforms for running the City of Calgary. During the forum, candidates were asked questions that citizens submitted online.
Incumbent mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke on a number of issues, including Calgary’s recent tax increases, public transit and the city’s grim rental market.
He said that city council has made an effort to keep rental rates low but has had trouble getting positive results.
“A lot of the mechanisms that we have used to improve the rental market have not been very successful,” Nenshi said. “Certainly we need to increase supply and part of that is new construction. I’m happy to see that we’re getting a whole wack of new construction of custom-built rental [homes] for the first time in a long time. But let’s remember that the reason people are able to do that is because rents are high enough that you can make money on custom-built rental construction.”
He added that the responsibility for keeping rental rates low rests with landlords.
“Right now, I do call out to landlords with a little bit of moral authority and say, ‘Look, just because you can increase rents doesn’t mean you should,’ ” Nenshi said.
He went on to say that, if re-elected, one of his priorities would be the creation of a housing task force to deal with Calgary’s low vacancy rate.
Nenshi added that he is in favour of changing secondary suites regulations.
During the forum, Nenshi responded to a barrage of criticism from candidates regarding recent tax increases for small businesses.
“We have the lowest taxes of any major city in Canada,” Nenshi said. “If small businesses are leaving Calgary I don’t know where they’re going.”
Jon Lord — who is widely considered the second horse in the race with his experience as a MLA and city councilor — said he would use the city’s tax revenues more efficiently and rid Calgary of its recent tax increases.
“To be truly great, a city has to be affordable for everyone. I don’t know how a 31 per cent tax increase is making it an even better city,” Lord said.
Nenshi and critics have doubted the accuracy of this number, but Lord has stuck by his statement.
Lord also proposed building more recreation facilities and legalizing basement suites.
Six other candidates also spoke during the forum.
Norm Pereault, a retired contractor, frequently talked about the importance of “common sense” policies and supporting small businesses.
“If you want to get the real facts about how things are going, phone small businesses like Bowness Auto Parts and ask them,” Pereault said.
Carter Thomson, a convenience store owner, sold himself as the business-friendly candidate who will decrease taxes.
“When I’m elected mayor, I will donate $100,000 of my salary per year to a local charity. I will implement policies and processes that are business friendly,” Thomson said. “I will get the city out of the taxing business and open to free enterprise.”
Larry Heather — a former Christian radio talk-show host who has run unsuccessfully in several federal, provincial and municipal elections since 1984 — spoke about religion during his opening comments.
“We have a broken covenant as a city with the God of the Bible that needs to be renewed,” Heather said. “Get back to avoiding things in the streets of Calgary that bring down the displeasure of Almighty God.”
Heather went on to express his displeasure with Nenshi being sworn-in as mayor on the Qur’an. He later blamed much of Calgary’s poverty on single mothers abandoned by dead-beat dads.
At the end of the forum, Heather railed against the city’s “alarmist greenhouse-gas reports,” then played a barely-audible recording of Nenshi talking about the environment. While the recording ran, some candidates questioned each other in confusion as Heather calmly stared at the audience.
When asked about some of the stranger ideas brought up during the forum, Nenshi was reserved with his comment.
“It was a very interesting night,” Nenshi said.
Sandra Hunter was the only mayoral candidate who did not attend.
CBC Calgary Eyeopener host David Gray moderated the forum.