After one year as mayor, I'm still excited

Post Date: Saturday, October 15, 2011
Mayor Nenshi - Colour-7164I write a monthly column in the Calgary Herald. Here is the full text of my October story:

A year ago today, I had a pretty big day — morning news shows and afternoon call-ins, visits to seniors homes and schools, saying hello to people on the street and prior to a Flames game, and a mysterious “special event” at noon. A poll the day before had suggested that the mayoral race was locked in a three-way tie, and across Calgary, people were talking. The buzz was not just about who they wanted for mayor, but about what they wanted for their community.

I’ve had the great honour of being your mayor for a year now. The opportunity is humbling, and I still wake up every morning excited at the chance to serve the citizens of this great city.

What I am most excited about is that the buzz continues. Across the city, people are still talking to their neighbours, or to folks next to them on the bus, about what’s working and what isn’t — about what they would like to see for their community.

As Calgarians, we’ve always been confident and optimistic, and I think that has only been magnified over the past year; people feel good about living here and hopeful about our shared future.

And it’s not just the folks I see on the streets, on the train, at community centres and online. (It’s certainly not just the people who comment on newspaper articles online!) A recent citizen satisfaction survey commissioned by the city showed that 83 per cent of people are satisfied with their lives in Calgary and 84 per cent are proud to be Calgarian. Most interesting, 86 per cent of people are optimistic about the future.

In a separate survey commissioned by a media outlet, council saw significant increases in its approval ratings. My own approval rating was the highest of any Canadian public official measured, which is very nice, of course, but far from my goal: to keep doing good things for the community as long as I can. It is gratifying, though, to see that Calgarians appreciate the change we are making.

It isn’t only sunshine and rainbows and happy thoughts, though. As a council, we’ve accomplished an enormous amount in the last year, and I would like to share some of those accomplishments with you.

A more detailed version of this report will be available at calgarymayor.ca over the next week, including status updates on each of my campaign promises.

The first major area in which we’ve been working is building better communities. Earlier this year, we created a permanent community investment fund, meaning that there is a predictable source of funding, for the first time, for things like libraries, parks, recreation centres and fire halls. Half of the fund is earmarked for life cycle upgrades to existing facilities, and the other half is for new construction of desperately needed infrastructure. With a little bit of participation from other levels of government, we will now be able to build three new library branches, including a new Central Library, and four rec centres, bringing new ice rinks, soccer fields and pools across the city.

We also cut in half the subsidy that we used to give to new development on the fringes of the city, meaning it will now be more fiscally sustainable to build new suburbs, and more cost-competitive to rebuild in existing neighbourhoods.

This summer, I was also happy to launch the Calgary Poverty Reduction Initiative, bringing minds from across the city to bear on a very difficult issue about strengthening all of our neighbourhoods.

Of course, we continue to focus on making every neighbourhood a safe one, and I am happy to support police Chief Rick Hanson’s efforts, and the work of so many others, in helping keep major crime rates in Calgary at levels not seen in decades. Calgary remains one of the safest major cities on Earth, and we’ll fight to keep it that way.

Our second big bucket of activity is keeping Calgary moving. Of course, I was very happy that we were able to secure funds for the completion of Airport Trail, meaning that we were able to build a major piece of infrastructure without impacting your property taxes. Not only was it the right thing to do to build it now, it was also the option that saved the most money in the long term.

But we’ve done so much more. We’ve invested heavily in transit, including direct transit options to the Calgary International Airport from the northeast C-Train and from downtown. We removed the $3 park-and-ride fee from C-Train and bus rapid transit stations, and we launched the Calgary Transit Customer Advisory Group to ensure Calgarians have a greater voice in the future of this important service. And yes, the machines finally give change (and accept credit cards)! While transit certainly has its challenges, and will be a major focus of our work in the next year, it’s getting better. Indeed, when Calgarians were asked why their quality of life had improved over the last year, the No. 1 unprompted response was because transit is better.

Our third key area has been transforming government to become more open, accountable, efficient and effective for Calgarians. I am most proud of changes in this area. In particular, there has been a change of tone in city council that has us being much more collaborative and productive as a group. Simply put, we’re able to get more done without bitter, reoccurring partisan battles.

In the area of transparency, change is starting in my own office, where I now post on calgarymayor.ca my expenses and lists of meetings. Following last year’s election, the city clerk’s office also quickly implemented video archives of all our council meetings so citizens can see for themselves how they are being represented in council.

Although we will have much debate over the coming months about our threeyear budget plan (which, for the first time, has engaged over 20,000 Calgarians on their budget perspectives well before any decisions were made), council has already passed a fiscally responsible fiscal plan for Calgary. Not only does this provide a direct line of sight toward our vision for a better Calgary, it also is a commitment to hold property tax increases to inflation plus growth and find $140 million in efficiencies over three years. We've also instituted zero-based budget reviews for every business unit in the city - something council has discussed for many years, but only finally done.

Red tape at the City of Calgary will continue to be a key issue over the next year.

But in the past 12 months, we have launched our cut red tape initiative that is engaging the business community and City of Calgary employees to dramatically improve the bureaucratic process.

For example, while the food truck pilot project has tasty benefits, it is really about demonstrating how we can cut red tape and help entrepreneurs become successful as quickly and easily as possible. The feedback so far (from the business owners and hungry citizens alike) is very positive.

I'm proud of what your new council has accomplished. But much work remains. The core principle of this work is simple; as your municipal government, we must constantly ask the question: "How does what we are doing make it better for people to live here?"

Together, we are building the better Calgary in which we all want to live and work. And it will be amazing.

- Mayor Naheed Nenshi