Live City Check-In: One-on-one with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi

In this candid conversation with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, find out how his city is dealing with the challenges of COVID-19 and what the short, medium and long-term impacts on the city could look like

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Community building during COVID-19

Mayor Nenshi emphasized the diversity embedded within Calgary and highlighted the important role community building has had in the City’s COVID-19 response. “In times of crisis and in times of trouble, we are reminded of the importance of community building and what we can do in order to understand that even when we are physically separated, we are, in fact together and we need to be together in community in order to continue this experiment of building,” he said. He also made a direct promise to his community: “It doesn’t matter what you look like or where you come from or how you worship or whom you love, you belong here and you have the opportunity here to live a life of dignity and potential.”

2. The quintuple whammy

While Mayor Nenshi said the he expects the effects of COVID-19 on Calgary to be similar to other places in the developed world, he highlighted that Calgary is facing a “quintuple whammy” of factors that can potentially worsen the effects of COVID-19 on the city. In addition to the public health crisis, he talked about the fallout from a global recession and the ongoing challenges in the world’s energy markets, a reduction in tourism, and the delayed discussion of racism and what it means in a Canadian context.

3. Tax reform and a new fiscal federalism

Mayor Nenshi discussed the urgent need for tax reform in Calgary. “The problem here is that the property tax is grotesquely unfair. It’s a terrible way of raising revenue. It’s unfair to people on fixed incomes who happen to have lived in their house for a long time in a neighborhood that . . . suddenly became trendy,” he said. “And it’s particularly unfair for businesses, for small businesses, because they’re [municipalities] taxing you on your landlord’s wealth, not on how well your business did this year.” With regard to a new fiscal federalism, he said that he hopes COVID-19 opens up the conversation for a shift towards a new fiscal federalism in which revenues are shared in different ways.

4. Striving to end homelessness in Calgary

Homelessness is a prevalent issue faced by “4,000 Calgarians a night on any given night” according to Mayor Nenshi. In response, he posed a fundamental question: “What if at the end of the pandemic, nobody goes back to emergency shelters?” To address the prevalence of homelessness in Calgary, Mayor Nenshi proposed making Calgary the first city in North America to seriously address housing issues and “end functional homelessness through the use of rent supplements, affordable housing, permanent supportive housing for some folks and addiction treatment for some folks.”

5. A necessary shift towards being actively anti-racist

“The lived experience of Canadians in this marvelous place is different based on the colour of your skin,” remarked Mayor Nenshi. He called for a shift in the conversation of systemic racism from “being not racist to being actively anti-racist.” To illustrate his point, Mayor Nenshi highlighted a discussion he had with teenagers of differing backgrounds from Western Canada High School on the lessons they receive about driving from their parents. He candidly stated “every person of colour gets two parts of that lecture”. We have to listen to the experiences of people in our communities, but listening and learning is not enough on its own. Said Mayor Nenshi, listening and learning is the pre-requisite to the work. We have to ensure that our actions as leaders and as a community are empowering people to live up to their full potential and dignity.

Reading &

Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line. 

Mary Rowe [00:00:22] Hi, good morning, everyone, in Calgary and midday here in central Canada. Really, really delighted to have you join us for this edition of City Talk. I’m Mary Rowe from the Canadian Urban Institute. And we are very, very fortunate they have Mayor Nenshi joining us for an hour to talk about his experience in Calgary and all the challenges that they’ve been meeting and what they see as being ahead. And we initiate these broadcasts in Toronto, which is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Annishnabec, Chippewa and the Haudenasaunee and the Wendat peoples. It’s now home to many diverse First Nations Metis and Inuit from across Turtle Island. We also acknowledge that Toronto was covered by Treat 13, which was signed with Mississaugas of the Credit and the Williams treaties that were signed with multiple Annishnabec nations. And we have these conversations in the context of that, those historical legacies of exclusion and also cognizant of all the ways in which we’re seeing preexisting conditions that challenge urban environments prior to COVID are now manifesting in extraordinary ways, including the prevalence of anti-Black racism and discrimination and exclusion that’s been strengthened, I think often by urban mispractices for BIPOC communities. So this has been an extraordinary couple of weeks here in Canada and been in cities and American cities and in cities around the world. And many of you joined us earlier this week for a session, a City Talk session that Jay Pitter hosted with practitioners from across the country and across America. And subsequent to that, Jay posted a Call to Courage is a really serious challenge for urbanists on the Canurb website. And I know that you’ll find it in other places. Just Google it. You’ll find Jay Pitter Call to Courage. And so we’re we’re keen to continue to have these conversations and try to find ways to do the work. The real work of city building, equitable, just resilient cities. And joining us is Mayor Nenshi. And folks, when you’re participating in these things, as you know, we videotape these and post them. And we also capturing the chat here and an opportunity for you to be able to pose questions to Mayor Nenshi but also to each other. And these chat functions have turned out to be extraordinarily important. And so we capture them on the transcript and we post those, too. So after this recording, after this event, you’ll see a recording of the mayor. You’ll see some summaries or five takeaways that some of our colleagues write to sort of summarize the high points. And then you’ll see the chat. And as we always tell people, this is only the beginning of a conversation. It’s an ongoing work in progress. These are never done. And so we encourage you to have the conversation on social media, hashtag city talk and just engage in dialog as we continue to navigate through this extraordinary period where urbanism is under siege. Municipal governments have been on the frontlines of every aspect of the COVID challenge. Someone said to us yesterday in a call that it’s really the first time that the visceral impact of a global event like a pandemic have been felt expressly by municipal governments and municipal services. And so, Mayor Nenshi, we were very eager to hear what the experience has been in Calgary and how you’ve been addressing it. And then let’s talk and hear your thoughts on what are the implications for the future. So welcome to City Talk.

Mayor Nenshi [00:03:30] Super. Thanks. Thank. Thanks very much, Mary. Welcome to my bedroom here on Treaty seven territory, a place where people have been gathering for many thousands of years, too. And, you know, I think it’s important to remember why people have been gathering on this land. You know, this is a this is a semi arid region. But people have been coming here because of the water, because this is where two great rivers meet the bow in the Elbow River in a place that the Blackfoot called Mohkinstsis. And for thousands of years, people been gathering on this land to hunt and fish and trade, to live, to love, to dream, to dance, to fight. Sometimes really to engage in all those things that mean building a community. And in times of crisis and in times of trouble, we are reminded of the importance of community building and what we can do in order to to understand that even when we are physically separated, we are, in fact together and we need to be together in community in order to continue this great experiment of building. So not only have we had folks here for thousands of years, the people the Niitsitapi, it just means people who are the people of the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Siksika, [00:04:51]the [0.0s] , and the Piikani People that the mountain people, the Stoney Nakoda, the Chiniki, the Wesley and the Bearspaw First Nations. And we have the Beaver people whose nation is right at the City of Calgary. We call them the [00:05:05]nut [0.0s] people now. And of course, we’ve had the great history of the Metis people on this land. And for the last hundred and fifty years or so, we’ve sort of we’ve tried to make a simple promise to the community. And that promise is that it doesn’t. Matter what you look like or where you come from or how you worship or whom you love, you belong here and you have the opportunity here to live a life of dignity and of potential. And I raise that because I think it’s important for us to remember that both in our emergency response, but also in how we build community together, especially in the conversations we have right now. We have to understand the ways in which we have fulfilled that promise and that dream and the ways in which we have nots. And I think that’s an important place for us to begin with. You know, Calgary is one of the most diverse cities on Earth. We have people from every corner of the world gathering here and both the COVID crisis and the critical conversations we’re having right now around racism, around Black Lives Matter, around Indigenous Lives Matter are reminding us that even in a place that is so diverse, even in a place that elects the mayor that looks like me, we are still have a long way to go on our journey. And I know that we’re gonna spend some time talking about that today.

Mary Rowe [00:06:27] Thank you. Well, you know, you and I saw each other before COVID late last year because the CUI was wanting to try to create platforms to have learning between city voters across the country. And we felt that there were incredible stories in Calgary and that you’d already had these extra you’d had particularly challenging circumstances. You had a flood and you’ve had the collapse of the oil industry. That’s and that’s been even worse during COVID. So you were already in this remarkable time of transition and reinvention. And we wanted to try to bring some folks to that. So our plans were waylaid that we couldn’t come and do what we wanted to do, be there with you for a week. But we still will. And we are virtually. And. And I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about what was happening in Calgary even before it hit. So people across the country have a sense of the economic challenges and some of the planning and spatial challenges that you’ve built that spectacular library. Love that. But there are all sorts of things you can do. Can you just lay the groundwork so people know what it was like before COVID hit?

Mayor Nenshi [00:07:29] Yes, I’m happy to do so. So we. And I’m very sad that we never did have that meeting. And I hope we can have it. It really going to be focused. It was really going to be focused on the issues of mental health in the community, which is something that none of us are getting right in the midst of this addictions crisis. And we’ve heard just in the last couple of days that COVID has made the addictions crisis even worse. And but regardless of that, we are in a position where it is probably safe to say that Calgary will be hit as hard by this crisis as anywhere else in the developed world. And we’re really facing a quadruple whammy, maybe a quintuple whammy that makes it a little harder than other cities. So number one is we are facing the public health crisis, which everyone is facing. Calgary is a particular hotspot within Canada for COVID. So we’re managing that. Number two is we’re dealing with the fallout from a global recession, particularly its impacts on store front businesses and on retail businesses. Number three, as you mention, the ongoing drama and challenges in the world energy markets. And number four is, of course, in this area. We are really dependent on our travel and tourism industry and that industry is gone. Gone. And so and that’ll take some years to recover. So ultimately, that hit has been hard for Calgary. The fifth one, of course, is the results of these critical conversations and much delayed conversations that we’re having about racism and what that really means in the Canadian context, systemic racism and what that means in the Canadian context. So we’re in an interesting spot. And like every city, we’ve been trying to manage three gauges. You’ve got your. Public health or physical health? You’ve got mental health and you’ve got economic health. And the decisions you make on one have impacts on the other. And that’s really the struggle that most communities have been going through. But that we have in particular been going through here in Calgary. So to actually answer your question, you know, it started in a place where I think a lot of Canadians haven’t really fully comprehended what happened here in Alberta. So in Calgary, we went from having the lowest unemployment rate of any city in Canada for many, many, many years to the highest from lowest to highest in 18 months. We went from having essentially no vacancy in the downtown core to one out of every three buildings, the downtown core is empty. And I should say one out of four, we didn’t quite get to one of the three. One out of four buildings in the downtown core is empty in 18 months. So the dislocation has been really jarring. Alberta nonetheless remains the largest net contributor to the Canadian Confederation. But it has been very difficult to manage through that. And we have been on a very, very, very slow slope of recovery from some time. And then COVID crushed it. So we have no idea, frankly, how long this recovery is going to take and what kinds of decisions that we need to make going forward. So on Tuesday, council will be deliberating the final approval of a project we’ve been talking about for many years called the Green Line, which will essentially double our rail based transit in the course of. In the course of the building of it, I should say, an extra forty three kilometers of line going to be built. And so that’s a very big deal. It’s a four point nine billion dollar projects in the first phase. And a lot of folks are saying, look, you know, in a post-COVID world, are people still going to work downtown? Do you still need public transit at all? Are people just going to be working from home? And it’s important now that we’re making big decisions. Big bets on the future and what we’re doing. Another thing that will surprise people is that our LRT system is the second highest ridership LRT system in North America. Second only to Monterrey, Mexico.

Mary Rowe [00:11:52] I love the LRT. I loved it.

Mayor Nenshi [00:11:55] Our mode split into the downtown core is about 50 percent transit. The number of drivers has gone down, even though the overall number of people have been going up so very much. And so we’ve been investing in transit. We’ve been building the city in different ways in terms of intensifying existing neighborhoods, creating more of an exciting urban vibe in the city. And that was certainly easier when everyone wanted to live here anyway. Now it’s really become continuing to attract talent, even though the economy is challenging. And here’s the fascinating thing. The history of Calgary has been one of booms and busts and very much as a columnist for the Calgary Sun, used to call it the U-Haul index, which is directly related to the price of oil. It’s the price of oil goes up and the U-Hauls come in. The price of oil goes down and the U. Hauls go out. And in this economic downturn, which has lasted nearly six years in Calgary now, we didn’t see that. The population is continued to grow healthily every year. People are still looking for the quality of life and for the place to live. And of course, I can’t speak for five minutes without reminding people that the economists last year called Calgary the best city in the Western Hemisphere in which to live. Three Canadian cities in the top five, by the way, Calgary ranks just ahead of Vancouver, which ranks just ahead of Toronto. And that’s something to be very proud of. From the Canadian context. And we need to really be able to focus on that and talk about how we are going to maintain that quality of life, because ultimately now the war is through talent and we need the best global talent to set up here in Calgary and in Canada more generally. I’m very good at very short answers to short questions. As you can tell, it’s good.

Mary Rowe [00:13:42] No, no, no.

Mayor Nenshi [00:13:43] Ten years as mayor and I still can’t do a soundbite.

Mary Rowe [00:13:46] Its All right. The great thing about this is we don’t need soundbites. We’ve got we’ve got lots of time to really hear in detail what you’re thinking. So we’re appreciative of you. Taking the time with us and our audiences is all about trying to really get in deep on these things, especially kind of. And, you know, when I when I was in New Orleans after Katrina for five years and I used to describe it to me as a prophetic city, because this is in 2005 and we were hardly talking about resilience and even climate change wasn’t as properly talked about as it is now? And that I said it was prophetic because it was a confluence of all these various challenges that had come and infrastructure had failed, and then there was climate impacts and then there were equity challenges and the way that they reinvented themselves. And when I was in Calgary with you last fall, in the early winter, and I had a similar feeling around Calgary, because you, as you suggest here, a boom bust town, which means that you’ve got a lot of people there that came to makes something. They came they were attracted to something and they made something. So you remade yourself a number of times and there you were kind of on the front lines of, as you suggested, the global energy markets and and I guess the collapse of a kind of monocultural economy that wasn’t going to be able to sustain itself. And so I already felt that you were kind of, you know, foreshadowing challenges that would hit you sooner. I hadn’t yet. And now you’ve had this on top of it. So as you suggest, you a yet the building blocks for diversifying your economy and then COVID hit. So talk to us a little bit about that. I mean, it has COVID in many ways confirmed the kind of directions that you were trying to focus on post before economic.

Mayor Nenshi [00:15:24] You know, yes and no. So one of the funny things about the Calgary economy is that. You when you had a certain scale as a city, you are diverse in your economy almost by default. Right. And so, you know, when I graduated from university 30 years ago. Yes. Twenty five years ago, actually, I was a child prodigy. I was 10. The GDP of Calgary was about 50 percent oil and gas. And before this downturn, it was from 50 percent down to 30 percent. So we’ve been diversifying all over the place without anyone noticing. In fact, the GDP of the oil and gas sector, well, it’s still huge. Right. It’s still huge, but there’s all kinds of other things going on as well. And in fact, although there have been some dire pronouncements about job loss in the energy sector, we actually haven’t seen a ton of it since COVID because the jobs are already gone. Right. Well, we’ve already lost a ton of jobs in that sector. And what a lot of people don’t understand is that the loss of energy jobs in Alberta since the beginning of this downturn in 2015. Is equivalent to the loss of the entire auto manufacturing sector in Canada. It’s been very, very large. And one of the federal cabinet ministers from Quebec recently said to me just a few months ago. You know, if we had lost one hundred and twenty five thousand jobs in the Saguenay. Or if we’d lost one hundred twenty five thousand jobs in southern Ontario, this would be a crisis of national proportions and the federal government would be thinking about nothing else. And yet we haven’t really had that national conversation in the country at all. And we’ve been left a bit to fend for ourselves. And we’re pretty good at fending for ourselves. But there comes a point where you need a little bit of assistance. And so, you know, in Calgary, we have this great economic development plan, Calgary and the new economy. I guess I get a commission every time I say Calgary and the new economy from Calgary Economic Development. So tick got that done. But. You know, it really focuses on some real building blocks of how you build business and then on certain industries. So it focuses on place and innovation and talent and the business environment. But it also focuses in seven sectors where we are already quite strong, but we could be much stronger. That, of course, the first one is energy in all its forms, conventional, clean, green, renewable. There is no reason why Alberta and Calgary shouldn’t be the world’s center for clean tech, because we understand how energy works. We got the smart people who get energy here. But then there are others, financial services, creative industries, agrifood and Agri-Business, seven billion people in the world have to eat life sciences, transportation and logistics, travel and tourism. The creative sector, including film. So I think I got all seven of them and didn’t repeat any. That’s always my test. I scramble them to see if I can remember them all. But in any case, these are areas where we can continue to grow even in a post-COVID environment. And so a lot of folks are using the cliche and I think the Federal government is actually used it publicly called build back better. And to me, there’s a lot of very deep thoughts in there. How do we build back an economy that is more resilient and more diverse? How do we build back in a way that solves many of the social issues, including homelessness and isolation of elders in our community? How do we unearth some of the real inequities that we’ve discovered, for example, how we treat long term care workers in our society, as well as building a more diverse and resilient economy? So I’ve been saying for some time to the federal government and the provincial governments, look, there are five things we got to focus on as we’re working on our coming out of the COVID crisis. The first is aid to vulnerable citizens and nonprofits. The second is aid to businesses. The third is aid to municipalities directly because we have been hit by this crisis in a way that many of us expected. And for the first time in my history, almost a decade as mayor, we actually need help in our operating budget. We never needed before. The fourth is building stimulative infrastructure. And the fifth is building back better, building a more resilient economy when we come back.

Mary Rowe [00:19:56] So can we talk a little bit about what what the the the actual numbers are for you in Calgary? So, as you said, you’re a hotspot for COVID and you have had had heavy incidences of the virus being distributed in particular kinds of ways. Are there patterns that are informing that can show you where which communities are most vulnerable and most vulnerable?

Mayor Nenshi [00:20:17] Yes, very much so. So Calgary has been a bit of a hotspot. We have had you know, I should know these numbers by heart, but we have had in the four thousands to five thousands of cases and we’ve had over a hundred deaths in Calgary. Hundred and eleven, I think was the last count. So it has been a bit of a hotspot and certainly it has not been distributed equivalently across the community. You know, folks who, frankly, are able to work from home. I have, of course, been hit less and we have had a couple of major outbreaks here, one, of course, in long term care. We’ve had a few and long term care and we had the largest outbreak at one time in North America, which was an outbreak at a meatpacking plant, which is not in Calgary. It’s at High River, Alberta. But many of the workers were from Calgary. And it really highlighted a number of things about how we make policy that are difference that need to be different. So, for example. Well, let me just go right to it without sugarcoating the issue. Something we never talk about in our community is the fact that we have a entire class, a very large class of people. Who do the work Canadians don’t want to do? I Should they’re Canadians I should say Canadians don’t want to do the work that many of us don’t want to do. That we just don’t think about. And so think about how we structured the long term care system. We basically have a large group of caregivers, most of whom are women. Almost all of whom are not white. Who get up very early in the morning to change our grandparents diapers. We give them 30 hours a week at a long term care home, so we don’t have to pay them benefits. So they have to cobble together another job, another 30 hours a week, the morning shift in one place, the evening shifts and another to get to 60 hours a week. Still no benefits to be able to have at least a passable or decent quality of life. And we made a promise to folks when they come to this country that this is a place of boundless opportunity and potential. And for too many first generation Canadians and immigrants and refugees, we don’t fulfill that promise. And we’ve created this class of people that do work that is absolutely required that we don’t value. And so in the case of the outbreaks in Calgary, we know, we don’t know know. But we know that a lot of these women in particular who were working in the long term care centers have husbands who are working in manual labor, who may well have husbands who work at meatpacking plants. And this entire thing and I mean, there are men who work as caregivers and women who work in the meatpacking plants. You see the point that I make. They live in multigenerational homes with their grandparents. They often work in places where public transit is not great. So they carpool. And so all of this tells us that our theoretically value neutral arguments about Public health and how a virus like this is the great leveler are actually very incorrect. And so it is true that Northeast Calgary, where I live, which is very ethnically diverse, has seen higher cases than the other parts of the city. But it actually has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with economy. And a little bit to do as well with just how people live differently. You know, in my neighborhood, multigenerational families are the norm with at least three generations living under the same roof. And, you know, when one person has COVID, we got to figure out how to isolate the rest of the family. And these things have been extremely challenging.

Mary Rowe [00:24:16] Well, yes. And it’s it’s made so clear the failure of urban planning around the kind of density that’s been created that lower income folks can have access to. As you say, it’s overcrowding. There aren’t great public amenities around it.

Mayor Nenshi [00:24:31] Well, well, don’t go don’t go too far, Mary, because it’s not just lower income people. And I think that’s the critical piece here. I happen to live in a neighborhood with very nice big houses and a lake in the middle of it. But because the houses are big, they are accommodating for bigger families.

Mary Rowe [00:24:47] That’s a good point yeah.

Mayor Nenshi [00:24:47] And so these are not necessarily low income people, but they are people who choose to live in multigenerational households. And we just are not really there for that.

Mary Rowe [00:24:56] Yeah. And I guess it’s a challenge, isn’t it? Let hope the design community and the planning communities to try to embrace this and figure this out, because, as you suggest, quite rightly and thank you for correcting me. I know that to be true in certain neighborhoods, certainly. And they can be they can be culturally organized neighborhoods. But as you suggest, where large, large family homes have increasingly been used as multi-family homes and multigenerational homes.

Mayor Nenshi [00:25:20] Yeah, yeah. And remember, too, that one thing we don’t really know yet. Just because of the fact that this COVID outbreak hit us in the late winter and spring is we don’t have a great sense of what happens in multi-family residential homes, even if they’re super high end condos in terms of the air circulation and the air systems. We think that COVID it is not a particularly airborne illness, but these are other things we’ve got to think about as well.

Mary Rowe [00:25:48] Yeah. Well, yes. And we’ve heard all those stories about kids doing homework in hallways with no lighting. And, you know, I mean, as you say, as you’re describing it. So in terms of how the municipal government has responded, you’ve had to do layoffs, I think. Right. To my knowledge, did you have to lay off permanent staff or did you just lay out contracts out or how did you determine how to cope with that?

Mayor Nenshi [00:26:08] So we’ve had to lay off about 15 percent of city staff, about eighteen hundred people, which has been very hard. Certainly not something that we ever wanted to do. We started by laying off on call and temporary folks. We didn’t hire seasonal folks. We tried to be very clear about if you don’t have work. Then there are the folks we lay off and we closed off while we closed all our rec systems, we cut our transit system by a third and so on. So these are very, very tough decisions. Now, as of today, gyms and rec centers are able to reopen. And so some folks are calling you saying is the pool or the city pools and the city rec center is going to be open today. The answer is now. They are open for a while yet because I can’t just hire people out. I  I got to go back I got to bring people back and sanitized the facilities. I’ve got to understand and abide by the guidelines, the new guidelines that mean running a gym is going to be very different. And so all of these things are critical. But there were decisions that had to be made. And I’m sure you’re going to go to the question next, Mary. So I’ll just tell you that this has had a huge financial impact on the city. So we are bleeding money, probably 15, ten to fifteen million dollars a week. And so by the end of this year, we are looking at a deficit in the city of Calgary. In the first case, from hundred and thirty to two hundred and fifty million dollars roughly. But that assumes that businesses don’t go out of business. It assumes a standard default rate on our property taxes. Our taxes are normally due at the end of June. And we have deferred those until the end of August. At the end of September, without interest or penalty, we still want people to pay in June, but we’ve deferred until the end of September. For those who just to take that pressure off the people, one less thing to worry about. But that also means that there may well be some businesses that were here in June that won’t be here in September. And I hope that’s not true. I hope that number is zero. But if those defaults come into place, then we could be looking at a deficit at the end of the year. Four hundred million dollars. And, you know, we cities across Canada cannot easily run deficits.

Mary Rowe [00:28:27] No.

Mayor Nenshi [00:28:27] The rules are a bit confusing for Calgary under our new city charter. But I just like to make it simple and say we can’t run deficits. In reality, we can’t budget for deficits. And if we end up running one, then we’ve got to pay it back.

Mary Rowe [00:28:41] Right.

Mayor Nenshi [00:28:41] But of course, cities only have property taxes and user fees to rely on. So to pay back that deficit in one or two years means either a massive increase in property taxes or a massive increase in user fees or a massive cut in services. And we’re a city where about seventy five percent of our budget goes to police, fire, nine one one roads and transit. And so it’s difficult for us to imagine that a big increase in tax or big cuts to services is the right thing to do as we’re going through a recovery from a pandemic like this.

Mary Rowe [00:29:14] You have a sense of whether the business community understands this. I mean, we we’re doing this across the country we had Mayor Tory here on City Talk earlier this week. And, you know, all the service, the essential services that you just laid out are the preconditions for anyone to operate a business or be able to live their lives in a healthy way. And I think we we’re not you know, lots of people who live in Canada don’t really realize which level of government pays for what. You know, nobody. Nobody knows. So. So do you have a sense of whether the business community, as it starts to plan its recovery, as you suggest, is aware that if if there isn’t some kind of different kind of mechanism to get money into municipal governments, that that’s going to compromise their ability to actually recover?

Mayor Nenshi [00:29:54] Yes and no. The business lobby groups, I have to say, have not in the business community any favors, because when we talk about the need for fundamental tax reform, they, by and large jump up and down and say, no new taxes. But you know that you the Calgary Chamber of Commerce has not done that. To be fair. Right. They’ve really said we have to have a conversation about real tax reform. But the problem here is that the property tax is grotesquely unfair. It’s a terrible way of raising revenue. It’s unfair to people on fixed incomes who happen to have lived in their house for a long time in a neighborhood that certainly became trendy, suddenly became trendy. And it’s particularly unfair for businesses, for small businesses, because they’re taxing you on your landlords wealth, not on how well your business did this year. Right. And that’s that’s a ridiculous situation.

Mary Rowe [00:30:43] And actually and on your landlords unrealized wealth, because it’s just it’s just equity on paper, that landlord. It could be a family that owns that building on a main street, for instance. But they haven’t realized any of that profit.

Mayor Nenshi [00:30:56] That’s exactly right. And so it’s a terrible way of doing this work. And so the real conversation is about fundamental tax reform. The real conversation is what, a new fiscal federalism. And maybe if we’re lucky, COVID will help us have that conversation. But, you know, ultimately, we’ve had a big problem with business taxes in Calgary. We’ve actually did a shift where we shifted some of them tax funding this year from nonresidential to residential resulting, even though we kept our budget flat, resulting in an average twenty dollar a month increase to people’s homes, which hit right in the middle of COVID. So terrible timing. But it did mean that businesses got about a 12 percent cut in their taxes because of this whole shift issue that we’ve had. The shift issue is because the assessment of the downtown core has gone down. So businesses outside of the downtown have seen their taxes go way up since everyone pays the same rate. But, you know, in that whole conversation with businesses, in that critical conversation with how we can assist businesses, what I really learned was there’s very little understanding of the services the City provides and why those are important for businesses to be able to succeed.

Mary Rowe [00:32:08] So have you done some thinking about what the alternatives are? We’re running this Bring Back Main Street project across the country on exactly what we’re concerned about, that you echo that if you don’t bring back you don’t find ways to support your local businesses and the other tenants on that main street, which may be a faith institution or could be a library or community center, could be a not for profit office. It could be a curling club for all we know, all these different things that make a neighborhood safe and vibrant. If you thought at all about what the reform might look like, do we do for instance, do we do we need to start, as you suggest, fiscal federal, a new fiscal federalism? Does this mean somehow not levying property tax on street level business retail?

Mayor Nenshi [00:32:48] I would love to. I would love to think about any way in which we can be less reliant on property taxes, especially non residential property taxes. Of course, here in Canada, we don’t have the ability to levy consumption taxes. We don’t have one in Alberta anyway. We don’t have the ability to levy income taxes or anything like that.

Mary Rowe [00:33:08] Do you want that, would you like that?

Mayor Nenshi [00:33:10] Well, you know, I think I would make a ton of sense. I think that it would make a ton of sense. And I’m willing to make a deal saying, look, for any dollar that we gets in a new form of taxation will reduce property taxes by the same amount. I’m happy to be revenue neutral. The challenge here is a bit deeper, which is that property taxes are extremely stable. So here in Alberta, the government, the provincial government also lobbies redis property taxes, and they like them because they’re stable. But their stability is why they’re unfair. Right. And so this is always a balance. You want to you don’t want to end up in a situation like provincial governments where especially in Alberta, where revenues go so up and down every year. With the economy. But I think large cities in particular are in a position where we can be a little more exposed to that volatility in order to achieve more fairness. You know, there’s lots of interesting things like I’ve got a big travel and tourism economy here. A lot of visitors come to Calgary and I don’t get a penny out of, you know, unless you count property tax. I get on the restaurants and hotels that are open because of them. I don’t have a hotel tax at all and a sales tax right. I don’t have any ability to be able to achieve any money. Now, Calgary is also a bit of a Uni-city. More than 85 percent or 90 percent of the regional population lives within Calgary. But for other cities, you have a lot of folks who don’t live in the city but come into the city for work, use public transit, bring their kids in for soccer at the city old rec facilities. And the city has no way of capturing revenue from them either.

Mary Rowe [00:34:44] So do you have. Do you now have the authority where you could actually enact a hotel tax or do you need that the permission of the province to do that?

Mayor Nenshi [00:34:51] We do not have that authority. It was part of our city charter conversations. It was removed at the last moment for further consultation. And now we’re in a point where that particular industry is not one. You’re going to levy any taxes. I may need a lot of help. It’s the opposite.

Mary Rowe [00:35:06] I mean, this is the dilemma. As you say, the property tax is a stable source of revenue, but not during a pandemic. It isn’t when you’re actually giving a break to all your businesses to say that they don’t need to pay it, right?

Mayor Nenshi [00:35:19] Yep. And well they do have to pay, if they just want to pay it on time and, you know, all I’ve been able to offer is a deferral. Right. Which certainly helps with cash flow, but it’s not a real great solution. But I’d simply do not have the fiscal capacity to forgive people’s taxes without because remember, we we bug we budget for a balance every year. And so I just don’t have the ability to do that. And I think that has been challenging.

Mary Rowe [00:35:46] So do you have a sense I know that you’re active in the Big City Mayor’s Caucus, that the Federation Canadians municipalities convenes, and I know that they have a significant case that they think the federal government for support to get a sense of the way forward in terms of closing their file. App and then going forward, because, as you know, in your out years, it’s going to continue. These businesses are not likely to recover quickly. If you guess those processes in the.

Mayor Nenshi [00:36:13]  The cities have never asked for operational funding assistance before. We manage our operating budgets on our own. We rely on the other orders or government or the taxes that people and cities pay to the other orders of government for a capital funding for building stuff. Ultimately, number one is we are going to need a backstop on transit revenues right away. So the federal and provincial governments are going to have to come to a deal for the larger cities that have a big reliance on our fair box for to run our transit system. You know, in Calgary, our ridership is down 90 percent. But I still got a hundred thousand boardings a day. Those people are boarding just because they enjoy taking the train. They’re boarding because they got to go to work.

Mary Rowe [00:36:53] And you were saying and 50 percent. You were saying 50 percent of the 50 percent of the trips are coming in to get under normal circumstances. So you get a lot of people using transit.

Mayor Nenshi [00:37:04] Yeah. And so but now it’s still got one hundred thousand people coming in. But I’m not making any money. And in fact, we’re boarding the bus, although we’re still collecting fares. Were boarding the busses from the back of the bus. It’s an honor system. In fact, our fare evasion is very low, though. People are still paying it. But all of that said. So we’re going to need. And I’m trying to get a little more solutions focused here. But we are going to need a backstop from the federal government on transit in particular, as well as generally on revenues to manage the issue around deficits by the end of the year. That’s got to come relatively quickly because cities are going in to budgeting and they need to know if they’ve got to make up these deficits next year and make tough decisions that way. Number two is, as you say, a change and a shift in fiscal federalism, which is really talking about how we share revenues in different ways. You know, some years ago when the GST was brought down from seven to five, there was an argument saying, keep it at seven and said that two percent directly to municipalities. In some provinces, they do share their sales tax directly. We have a new revenue sharing scheme under our city charter with the government of Alberta, but it only gets us back to twenty nineteen levels of funding and 20 40 something. So these are very large challenges that we face, but it requires an open mind about thinking about tax reform fundamentally and what new kinds of taxes might be.

Mary Rowe [00:38:37] I mean, there may be, though, a willingness to consider something now under the COVID crisis then that had previously not been there, less fundamental examples of this Mayor Tory said on Tuesday. What would it take in five years to get by claims approved? Got approved in three weeks. So do you think that there’s an opportunity here? And tell us about the disposition of your provincial government. They haven’t prior to COVID been particularly pro-urban I guess. But do you think under these circumstances they might be more likely to consider some of these tools?

Mayor Nenshi [00:39:07] Well, you know, they are very poor or so they keep telling me, although they have the lowest debt to GDP ratio of any provincial governments. They keep telling me that they just don’t have any money, but they have shifted a little bit. You know, we had a Minister of Finance who last year said economic diversification is a luxury we can’t afford in bad times, who just last week unveiled a new economic diversification plan. So they have woken up to this a little bit. But the problem is the eternal problem of Canadian Federalism and I’m sorry that we spent 40 minutes talking about the problems, but that is just endless pass the hat. You know, the federal government says, well, it’s a provincial responsibility in the province to say we’re poor. You have all the money. Figure it out. And in the end, it’s citizens who end up hurting. And so we really need the feds and the provinces to come to the table together. And, you know, kudos to Premier Ford in Ontario. He’s really been the one who said, I’m going to be at the table and we’ll work this out together. Most of the other provinces and the federal government have essentially said to one another, your problem, I’m not dealing with it.

Mary Rowe [00:40:14] Yeah, I mean, as you suggest, it is not only pass the hat, but from from a resident’s point of view, it’s pass the buck. You know, we can never seem to find anybody that will assume full responsibility for an area that is failing. So why don’t we have enough housing? Why do you know why don’t we have business incentives? You know, it’s it’s so I think even even wanted to.

Mayor Nenshi [00:40:34] It’s about priorities, though, right? Even when it’s one order of governments clear responsibilities. So the example I’ve been giving is, look, we found in 20 minutes. Nine billion dollars for students who are having trouble getting summer jobs. Totally worth a totally worthy nine billion dollars. Got it in 20 minutes. Right. How many decades have we had boil water advisories on First Nations reserves that would take three billion dollars to fix? And the federal government has never been able to find three billion dollars for that. Priorities.

Mary Rowe [00:41:04] It’s shocking, isn’t it? I need to be brought into sort of a shocking picture, as you suggested. Let’s let’s shift for the last few minutes, if we can, to some tangible things that you can do within your own jurisdiction and your authority. And you’ve been doing some of it. So let’s talk. And we’ve been wondering, you know, things that are your injuries temporarily during COVID as a coping mechanism. Maybe they’ll stick. So talk to us about the land use decisions you’ve made. Because I know you’ve had quiet streets. You’ve been providing access to of space. Any thinking on how that’s going to continue or what your lessons have been through that now?

Mayor Nenshi [00:41:37] We’re watching it very carefully. So like many places, we opened up streets temporarily to reduce congestion for bike lanes and pathways and so on. We have. What’s the number? Not quite a hundred, I believe. Kilometers of lanes open now. But that’s some of that will be permanent. Some of it won’t. Some of it was just easy to do because traffic had gone down so much. And as traffic is going up, you know, you want to be careful about congestion as well. So these are things to balance off that. I want to I want to tell you about one thing that I’m dreaming about, and that is homelessness. And so when we looked at opening these overflow shelters, I think a lot of citizens were shocked when they saw pictures of wrestling mats on the floor in a church one meter apart, not realizing that’s the lived reality for 4000 Calgarians and eight on any given night. And so I’ve been asking a lot of folks to dream about the following question. What if at the end of the pandemic, nobody goes back to emergency shelter? What if we use the fact that we’ve got a vacancy rate and the fact that we’ve got that we’ve got the ability to do things for less than the cost of the shelter system to say let’s make Calgary the first city and first large city in North America to actually take housing first seriously and end functional homelessness through the use of rent supplements, affordable housing, permanent supportive housing for some folks and addictions, treatment for some folks and really say that no one should have to sleep on a mat on the floor for more than a couple of nights until we find a better place to go. That’s a big shift. Housing first is not a shift in our thinking. We talked about it for 15 years. But actually putting money against it and saying this is our goal is a shift in our thinking, so can we do that? So I’ve been thinking a lot about these kinds of moon shots, right. What do we do to build back better? And how do we manage coming back in a much smarter way and not just about land use, but about homelessness, about economic development and resilience at all to supporting small business, all sorts of things. And, you know, I really want to make sure we get the talk to the big social movement that’s going on right now. Somebody told me, give me a really interesting thought exercise, which is right now when you phoned nine one one. The people added to the phone with Calgary nine one one police, fire or ambulance. But given the kind of calls they get at Calgary nine one one. What if they answered the phone with police, fire, ambulance or mental health? And we dispatched the kind of help that people need at that moments. So I think there are some really interesting opportunities here for us to think big and use the fact that people have been so resilient that our lives literally changed over a weekend. That was that fast March 15th that weekend. Right. Everything changed and we were able to cope and we were able to shift. So can we take the fact that we were that resilience and apply that to some of the very, very big concerns we have in our community?

Mary Rowe [00:44:48] I mean, that would be certainly that. And that’s not only a symbolic gesture, but that would be also a structural gesture, because it would mean that there would need to be referral services tied into nine one one which would ultimately affect the delivery of fire and police and ambulance as well. And of course, we’re getting those calls around the country, around the world for defunding the police, which is all about reallocating resources in ways that are speak more to the challenge that people the support that people need. And any other thoughts like any other moonshots that are in your brain there, Mayor Nenshi?

Mayor Nenshi [00:45:22] Yeah, I have so many of them. One of them is. Well, I’ll come back to that one, actually, because we can spend some time on it. There’s a very specific one for Calgary that is around sport and making sure that we maintain own the podium. I was very sad that we didn’t get the chance to bid on the twenty, twenty six Olympics. But it also means that we have to make a pretty big investments in our high performance sports facilities. It’s another big one. Housing, as I’ve talked about transit. You know, this is a bet. This one’s a bet. Transit is way, way, way down in ridership. Look, can we say that this really is an opportunity for us to to a great focus on public transit and building out a lot of those transit projects that have been on the books for a long time. In a time when interest rates are close to zero, where jobs are needed, and where we have the ability to build infrastructure that is desperately required. Can we get resilience and build that way? The deadly force right now. Go ahead.

Mary Rowe [00:46:25] Are you confident that people will go back to transit? They’ll have to.

Mayor Nenshi [00:46:28] I guess eventually. This is a problem of geometry. Yes. If we believe that people are still going to not work from home 100 percent of the time and they need to get out of the house, the roads just started big enough to handle all that capacity, even in a world of autonomous vehicles. So ultimately, it’s a question of geometry. One one Calgary transit C train car holds as many people as 100 private vehicles. Right. And so ultimately, yeah, people will go back and my my crystal ball is very foggy in terms of what work from home is going to look like in the future. But I believe people are social. People want to go back to things the way they were. They want to be more productive. And so I suspect that some employers will be a lot more flexible in being able to work from home a day or two, a week and so on. But ultimately, we will see some semblance of people returning to offices and transit will be required.

Mary Rowe [00:47:25] Do you think that we can come out of this with a redoubling and recommitment to the public realm generally? How we have we spend to how we invest in our streets, parks, all that kind of thing?

Mayor Nenshi [00:47:36] You know, it’s a super interesting question because we’ve also been very, very private in our lives in the last little while. And in a weird and ironic way, having lived very private lives, is also leading us to value the public realm in a different way. Parks are so much more important than they ever were before. The ability to see other people is so much more important. So certainly I’m thinking hard. I think we’ve done a pretty good job on it to date. But I am thinking hard about, OK, what is what is the world look like in terms of the public services and the public realm that we’re providing forward?

Mary Rowe [00:48:14] You know, we have a history in North America of these monumental public works projects, like the Work Progress Administration that created all the national parks, infrastructure and all sorts of spectacular things that we saw happen in America. And do you think it’s a do will we see that kind of a moment, as you say, to build back better? Can we commit to large infrastructure projects that will be green and resilient and have equity right at the center of it? Is there a pivot here?

Mayor Nenshi [00:48:43] You know, I think so. And I think that we need to think about. We need to think about the world in a new way in terms of how people are living together. I don’t know if it’s a pivot so much as a refocus on other kinds of priorities, which I think are really important. And so that I wouldn’t want to get to the other big conversation. I don’t want to lose it in this context. That big conversation really is. Has something fundamentally changed in the last month about how we think about how we live together in community and how we think about Black Lives Matter and how we think about Indigenous Lives Matter? So I have been talking a lot about what does it mean to go from being inclusive and diverse and multicultural and being not racist to being actively anti-racist. And I believe that that conversation has shifted in a very fundamental way. I liken it to being in the mountains in the springtime. And you hear a big crack and the crack is the ice that had previously been quietly melting, breaking open, and the water’s starting to flow. And I would like to believe that we are in that world right now and that it really is a huge opportunity for us to talk about how we ensure that everyone who lives in our community, particularly black Canadians and indigenous Canadians, other people of color, have the opportunity to live a life of their full potential. And I think it’s time for us to have bigger and broader and better conversations about this, about what systemic racism really means in the Canadian context. So last week, I spent a lot of time with high school students and in particular with students who went to Western Canada High School, which is one of the best public schools in the country in the heart of downtown Calgary. So you’ve got students who go to school in the downtown core of one of the most diverse cities on earth. And they’re going getting an outstanding public education and they have a life of limitless potential ahead. And yet. The conversations they were having about the pathways that they are on and the life they live for themselves was so different based on the color of their skin. And this is a critical thing, you know, one thing that I’ve been saying that shocks literally no one of color, but I’ve seen so many shocked faces for is the story that I was having with these students. So I asked them, how many of you have your driver’s license? We keep hearing that these Gen Z folks never have a driver’s license. Right? A lot of them did. And so they put up their hand. The ones that did put up their hand. And I said, OK, so let me tell you what your parents said when you got your driver’s license, because you all got the same lecture. You got the same lecture that I got when I turn. Well, I didn’t get my until after I was 16, but when I got mine. And that is don’t speed. Drive safely. Don’t have too many friends in the car. Don’t have the music too loud. Don’t text and drive put your phone in the backseat. Don’t drink and drive. Stay focused. And for the love of God, don’t scratch my car. So we all get that lecture. And those of those who are parents have given that lecture. Every single person of color gets part two of that lecture when they get their driver’s license. And that is don’t resist. Never have your wallet in your pocket. Have your wallet on the back, on the seat, so you can reach for it easily. If you get pulled over. Put your hands in the air where they can see them. If you have to reach for something, reach with your left hand, keep your right hand in the air. They ask you to get out of the car. Get out of the car. They ask you to get on the ground. Get on the ground. Don’t resist. No matter how unjust it is, it’s not worth it. And even in a place like Calgary where the Calgary Police Service has been on a tremendous journey of allyship. Has gone on a journey to figure out how they understand their job is to protect the safety of marginalized communities, even in a place like Calgary, kids get that lecture. And so it’s important that we’re in we’re in a place now where we actually understand that the lived experience of Canadians in this marvelous place is different based on the color of your skin. And for 10 years I have been saying. You know. I grew up in a Calgary, where I never once thought there was a single job I couldn’t do because of my faith or because of the color of my skin, except maybe Rabbi. But. While that is mostly true. It is not, in fact, the lived experience for everyone, and it is particularly not the lived experience for many black Canadians and many Indigenous Canadians. And so it really is time for us to think about what it means to shift our power structures. You know, I had a very interesting situation myself last week where a very, very prominent Calgarian who is on the news, on TV, on the radio all the time, said he particularly nastily racist thing, not just about me, but about much of Calgary, basically implying that the only reason I’m mayor is because all the ethnic people voted for me. And the challenge with that, there are many challenges with it when it’s factually untrue. I went 12 to 14 wards in the city. Number two, and there aren’t enough ethnic people to make that difference. Still only one in three Calgarians. Number two, it implies that people who are not white were only voting for me because I’m not white. Number three, it implies that people who are not white somehow don’t have the right to vote. Or perhaps their vote should count for less. So it is a deeply offensive thing packaged up in a deeply offensive way. And he’s gotten a lot of trouble for it. But he got in a lot of trouble for it because his timing was bad. Because it happened to happen in this week because he’s been saying nasty, horrific things worse than that about me for years. He’s saying nasty, horrific things about the prime minister for years, he once called for people who disagree with him environmentalist’s to be publicly hung in the streets. And yet we have him on TV we have on the radio. We talk to him as though he’s an expert in areas he doesn’t know anything about. And so I ask. You know, I used to be a columnist for the Calgary Herald and I asked if I had put up a tweet when I was a columnist that said all fat cat oil people should be hung in the streets for their crimes against climate. It’s pretty clear that I wouldn’t be a columnist for the Herald anymore. And this has been going on for three years with this guy. So ask yourself, what does that mean? What is that word privilege mean? What does that word platform mean? And how do we think about things incredibly differently as we move forward? How do we go from being not racist to being anti-racist? I don’t know the answers to these questions. I don’t even know where to begin. I know that we have to start by listening and learning. I think that’s critical. I have not been at the protests, even though I really want to go, even though I’ve been inside inside the system for so long, I’ve helped organize and marched in more peaceful protests and marches than I can count. And I haven’t done for two reasons. Number one is, while we’re still in a public health pandemic, I’ve got a 79 year old mother who lives with me in my multigenerational home and I just can’t risk bringing home the virus to her. Number two is I also think I don’t want to take the oxygen. I don’t want the story to be. Mayor showed up at the protest. And I’m not condemning the Prime Minister, Senator Romney or whoever who did it. Those are choices they make. But I want to listen to the voices, to the real authentic lived voices that we hear in the community. But I want to remind everybody of something. It is time for listening and it is time for learning. But here’s the thing. Listening and learning is not the work. Listening and learning is the prerequisite to the work. In some sometime very soon. Got to get to the work. And we’ve got to figure out what that work is and it’s hard, and I do not know what the answers are. But ultimately, it is our job to figure out those answers, to make sure everyone in our community is living a life to their full potential life of dignity in this community. I said at the very beginning that we have a promise on this land and that promises that it doesn’t matter what you equate to where you come from or how you worship or whom you love. What matters is that you’re here. What matters is that you belong here and that you have the rights. You have the rights right here, right now to live a great Canadian life. And ultimately, that is what we have to figure out. How to make that true? How to live that promise to fulfill that promise for every single Canadian.

Mary Rowe [00:58:17] And that, folks, is the Mayor of Calgary. Naheed Nenshi. You know, I think the wonderful thing about this extraordinary times is that we’re getting a chance to hear one another and that the platform makes sense for us to hear when another there. And we appreciate, as you suggest, it’s not the work. It’s the prerequisite for the work that we listen and learn. And we have so many people on the chat and across the country that are engaged in building cities and can actually once we’re ready to act, we can make the built environment better. And we can we can build back better in ways that are more just more resilient. So thank you, Mayor Nenshi, for all of us.

Mayor Nenshi [00:58:56] Thank you. And we I didn’t get that. We didn’t get to hardly any of the technical questions on the chat. I am very comfortable with building that bridge over Prince’s Island, and I don’t think it’s going to ruin the island. I think it will actually make it a little bit better. That’s a whole other story. But sometime, Mary, we should have a super wonky version of this answer. You know, really specific questions about repurposing land and land use and the future of how people live in the community.

Mary Rowe [00:59:21] You know, I think that I agree with you. We need to move to the brass tacks and we will. We will soon. A week from today, folks, is one hundred days of COVID. go and look at that and you’ll see it for the day we’re doing a Cross Canada survey sessions Halifax, Montreal, London, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver, Victoria, to hear what’s going on on the ground. We’ll be back in Calgary with some of your colleagues, Mayor Nenshi. And at the end of that, we’re going to have a sense of what are the signposts that we have to pay attention to for the first 100 days to bring back whatever urban Canada is going to look like. So, as you quite rightly pointed out, Mayor Nenshi, there are going to be further wonky technical sessions about how we concretely start to pull ourselves back into a better place. So on that very hopeful note. Mayor Nenshi, thank you for joining us and sharing your insights. We appreciate it very much.

Mayor Nenshi [01:00:11] Thank you, everyone.

Mary Rowe [01:00:12] Bye bye.

Mayor Nenshi [01:00:13] Bye Bye.

Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

Note to reader: Chat comments have been edited for ease of readability. The text has not been edited for spelling or grammar. For questions or concerns, please contact with “Chat Comments” in the subject line.

12:01:38      From Canadian Urban Institute: Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.

12:02:43      From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Today’s conversation is with Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary, AB


12:02:56      From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

12:03:24      From Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #citytalk @canurb

12:11:34      From Michelle Robinson to All panelists: Hey everyone!! Love this! Lots of folkx might not know but since he most likely will not bring it up, Nenshi gets daily racism.. it was awful in the last election (I was door knocking.) It’s all over social media on the daily. ((prayers up))

12:12:29      From Canadian Urban Institute: Welcome new joiners! Just a reminder to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.

12:12:59      From Michelle Robinson: Hey everyone!! Love this! Lots of folkx might not know but since he most likely will not bring it up, Nenshi gets daily racism.. it was awful in the last election (I was door knocking.) It’s all over social media on the daily. ((prayers up))


12:19:56      From Inthuja Ramachandran to All panelists: How quickly are the transcripts posted on the website?

12:21:08      From Canadian Urban Institute to Inthuja Ramachandran and all panelists: Usually within 24 hours

12:23:03      From Inthuja Ramachandran to All panelists: thank you!

12:23:33      From Catherine Soplet: In 2014, Calgary Mayor Nenshi told his story of growing up as a child in a #newcomer #community in #Calgary, w/ the help of the public #education, public #library and #recreation programs. vid



12:24:19      From Christina Reynolds: Covid has reminded us of the importance of city parks, essential green places we can turn to for comfort and peace and quiet, especially during a pandemic. So how do plans to put the Green Line LRT bridge right over the wetlands at Prince’s Island Park, Calgary’s Central Park, fit with “build back better”? Already, the Calgary South Ring Road is taking away arguably the quietest and most biodiverse green space in the city, in the Weaselhead park. Public transit is important. But how does the city really value our public parks and green spaces? Once the quiet is gone, you can’t get it back.

12:26:44      From Astra Burka: From Astra Burka I really like how Mayor Nenshi understands the issues in a realistic way. I have hope that Calgary will showcase solutions frothier cities.

12:28:58      From Astra Burka: From Astra Burka Typo …I have hope that Calgary will showcase solutions for other cities. It is time to do solutions and not dwell on the problem as we know this already. ACTION and LESS TALK

12:32:03      From Abby S to All panelists: This is why Banks also need to get involved in the financing of small landlords and perhaps waiving some mortgage payments to pass along affordable rents to tenants.

12:32:13      From Beate Bowron: Can you please spend more time on brainstorming solutions than focusing on the problems, which are well known.

12:41:37      From Abby S: Right-shameful

12:42:12      From Abby S: It’s all about the will. Our federal government lacks the will to correct water and conditions.

12:44:44      From Catherine Soplet: ACER Canada, is an environmental education charity. Since 1987 ACER has developed programs including planting and geotagging of tree specimens for school yards, conservation areas, and private landowners of residential and commercial land.


Sites are publicly accessed, although land ownership can be public or private. Sites are planted with a view to engage local stewardship to collect annual data for international climate change research.


In 2019, ACER bundled its Planting for Change school yard planting program into a proposal for Peel Region – Project Crossroads: Planting for Change. The tagline is “Climate justice science, for trees and for people”. Read the proposal profile:


Project Crossroads targets efforts to work with communities in identified low tree canopy “heat islands” where residents experience lower well-being and higher policing events. The areas coincide with Statcan data for higher residency of recent immigrants, and l

12:45:15      From Catherine Soplet: and lower income families who experience poverty. Check out the overlay maps, in the presentation to Mississauga Climate Action network for Earth Day 2020.


Funding for 1500 tree specimens for October 2020 planting in Bramalea SNAP areas will be announced Sunday, June 14 at ACER’s AGM.


Please join in our webinar. Details in ACER’s press release:




12:46:07      From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

12:46:58      From Catherine Soplet: Planting for Change delivers hands-on STEM to students, builds leadership skills and wellbeing – Students get stronger academic and other skills, to open choices for specialist skills programs in secondary school.

12:48:43      From Tony Mammone: Pre-Covid -19 we needed 11,000 affordable homes. The recent last 3 recessions have contributed to more hardship. The post Covid-19 era with further waves and change is social behavior will increase near homelessness further. As professional engineer of 21 years in Calgary and having experienced near homelessness for a short period, this past year I have come to understand that housing is the most important and pressing need. I commend the efforts of the City of Calgary to align and form a great team of dedicated affordable housing specialists to support this space. I believe designing and building large tall multi-story buildings helps but is not a long term solution. There are a number of us dedicated professionals working to make an immediate impact in designing and building small micro unit homes to secure housing first for so many tenants earning minimum wage. micro suites in various multi-family housing lots for 5-24 homes. WE need the city of Calgary to step up any way possible to provide supports for:

12:49:39      From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please help CUI improve its CityTalk programming with a short survey –

12:53:36      From Abby S: This is so heartbreaking, but not at all unfamiliar to hear.

12:54:28      From Canadian Urban Institute: Keep the conversation going #citytalk @canurb

12:55:22      From Catherine Soplet: re: racism

On June 1, the day Peel District School Board sent its response to Ontario Ministry of Education to address gaps in its anti-Black racism program – #WeRiseTogether – the President of the United States descecrated Americans by setting National Guard on #BlackLivesMatter peaceful protestors


Photo in “Peel Matters: Peace, Order and Good Government” first appeared in this article about the first-ever We Rise Together – Parent Conference held in Mississauga:



12:56:09      From Michelle Robinson: ((great words))

12:56:43      From Abby S: How did Calgary Herald respond to your analogy?

12:57:26      From Cheryl Cohen: Thank you for this.

12:57:39      From Marsha Paley: Thank you, Mayor Nenshi and CUI for the heartfelt and informative session.

12:57:56      From Beate Bowron: Thank you, Mayor Nenshi.

12:58:27      From Tony Mammone: Redeveloping community association lands for affordable housing, retail/office properties struggling to pay taxes can be repurposed to mixed housing/ health wrap around services for communities. Its time to build small, more social developments 5-12 units right in communities, on the streets we grew up on. Kelowna, BC has established a new zoning for multi-family homes for large 10,000 sq ft lots with one single old home. Making small successful steps with smaller housing developments in communities that needed the most will initiate more demand from mixed -private development and not for profits. Partnerships, innovating working teams can make miracles. A 302 sq ft home will costs $150/ month for a mortgage so that a service sector worker earning minimum wage can afford to pay $605 a month. The right design, right lot, right sizing for tenants or new owners, right dedicated innovative thinkers will easily create success. Calgary can do it and others across the country will follow.

12:58:57      From Catherine Soplet: How to move the world from being “not racist” to “anti-racist” – first we listen, long and well – and soon we must all act.

12:59:25      From Francis Wallace to All panelists: Thank you Mayor Nenshi. Very thoughtful comments.

12:59:28      From Abby S: Thank you!

12:59:46      From GC to All panelists: Thanks for Mayor’s candid comments.

12:59:51      From Michelle Robinson: Hosted by Andrew Phung!

13:00:03      From Imtiyaz Rahaman to All panelists: This is a decades – centuries old problem and Nenshi is right – we need to think about why this (the lived reality for so many of us) is still a surprise for so many. Thanks NN and CUI

13:00:13      From GC to All panelists: Hello from Richmond Hill, ON!

13:00:22      From Emily Wall, CUI Staff: Please visit for a schedule and information about our June 19 event for 100 Days of COVID.

13:00:42      From James McCallan: thank you!