Too often, public money has been used to subsidize private enterprises. In effect, the government chooses which industries and businesses will receiving taxpayer subsidies.
While it is important to revitalize Calgary’s downtown core, which has been decimated by several factors, it is also important that governments ensure fairness and manage this revitalization project with greater oversight, with adequate protections for taxpayers.
While the ongoing struggles of Alberta’s oil and gas sector have had a direct impact on the current vacancy rates in downtown office towers, it is not the only culprit. We must also remember that many of the City’s past and current policies have created many of the existing problems. High parking fees, too many dedicated bike lanes, lack of security on LRT platforms, and the lack of afterhours usage have been at the heart of the downtown’s problems.
We understand that the costs to refurbish these buildings and turn them into residential use will be enormous and very onerous due to constraints on construction and of course regulations for residential units.
The idea that City cash reserves and federal infrastructure funds should be used to directly subsidize private sector businesses reveals a lack of vision and falsely equates dollars spent with progress made. Infrastructure funds should be used for roads, bridges, and other public projects, not to support private assets.
Lead Calgary believes that a different approach to revitalizing the downtown core.
Here are some of our policy recommendations:
- Differed (10 years) and lower taxation should be used to incentivize private owners.
- Low interest rate loans to private industry could be provided by governments.
- Free or low-cost space could be provided to institutions of higher learning, including the University of Calgary and SAIT, to expand campus capacity
- Low-income housing funds could be provided directly to those in need through rent subsidies, rather than to building owners.
Restoring economic activity and growth to the downtown core must a concern for future City Councils, but care must be taken to ensure that taxpayer dollars aren’t being used to pick private sector winners and losers, or expose Calgarians to unacceptable risk in any revitalization scheme.