All Calgary Councillors Should Hold Public Meetings On Arena Deal

On Monday, Calgary Council will once again be debating a proposed Arena deal.

This comes after an almost full day closed-door discussion last week, and lots of behind-the-scenes discussions over the last few months.

It’s unclear how much of this week’s discussion will also be held behind-the-scenes, but we continue to push for more transparency, accountability, and openness from City Hall regardless.

One councillor, Ward 11’s Jeromy Farkas, has been taking the initiative in this regard, and last week hosted a town hall meeting to allow residents of his ward, and the wider city, to participate in the discussions about a proposed new arena and potential funding mechanisms.

In order to build trust in the process, every councillor should be holding these types of public meetings.

The Alberta Institute’s Alex McColl attended Farkas’ meeting and provides a summary of what happened and the mood of the room, in anticipation of tomorrow’s meeting.

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On February 21st approximately 200 people attended a town hall meeting hosted by Councillor Farkas at the Acadia Recreation Centre.

Councillor Farkas opened the night with some general updates from City Hall about recycling enforcement, the cancelled council “working together” meeting, and his proposal to reinstate the summer student jobs program at City Hall.

The meeting then moved on to the main course with Councillor Farkas introducing the arena issue and asking people to think about 3 questions:

  1. Do you want a new arena?
  2. If so, how much are you willing to pay?
  3. Should there be a vote like there was for the Olympics?

After this introduction, the meeting moved on to public comments and questions.

At one point in this session I went to the microphone and outlined how Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg all managed to get new arenas without any public money, how private arenas in other cities pay property taxes, how small businesses are struggling to pay their current property tax increases and how they can’t afford to pay more so that billionaires can get a subsidized arena.

Following this, three different small business owners stood up and repeated the refrain: I’m struggling to keep my business open with these huge tax increases.

One said, “I have nothing left to give.”

Another, that his business barely survived the City Hall “Stress Test” of a “22% tax increase.”

The third agreed with everything his peers had said and added that if taxes go up again, then he’d “tap out” and close his business for good.

When Farkas asked for a show of hands about who thinks we need an arena, but that the Flames owners should pay for it themselves, a clear majority put up their hands.

When he asked if he should even be open to making a deal, less than half as many put up their hands.

A few people insisted that we need a new arena to keep the Flames in Calgary and to bring in more big concerts to the City.

On this point, one man responded that he had season tickets to the Flames and would love a new arena, but that he believes that people like him should pay more at the ticket stand and not shift the burden to other taxpayers and struggling business owners.

He received significant applause when he pointed out that the Flames have some of the highest priced tickets in the league and if they threaten to leave, then we should let them go as another team would quickly move here to take their place.

A woman followed up on this with a pointed question, “Toronto’s arena was paid for with private money, and they hold big concerts there, right?”

A pro-subsidy person stood up to say that she supported the old Calgary Next idea: that 25% should come from the team, 25% from the taxpayer, 25% from a ticket tax, and 25% from a levy.

Not many people in the audience seemed to agree, with some later telling me that they didn’t trust that idea because “ticket tax” and “levy” sounds like “mumbo-jumbo” from a “snake oil salesman”.

Calgary taxpayers have good instincts, perhaps they’ve been fooled one too many times and have since wised up.

At the end of the day, there’s only one taxpayer.

Councillor Farkas summarized the night, and asked for a show of hands to confirm he got it right:

  1. Do you want a new arena?

Yes.

  1. If so, how much are you willing to pay?

None to a little, but they want transparency and all the details clearly laid out.

  1. Should there be a vote like there was for the Olympics?

Yes, and “Don’t give them a Cent” should be one of the options!

At the end of Jeromy Farkas’ town hall meeting a woman told the room that she doesn’t live in Ward 11 but comes to these events because her councillor doesn’t do town halls, and if it wasn’t for Farkas’ monthly events, then she’d be unable to tell what’s going on at City Hall.

We encourage every councillor to take the opportunity to discuss this proposed deal with their constituents directly and give Calgarians a say on any proposed arena deal.