Policy meets shredder

City scraps automatic withdrawal of provincial property tax room

After several recent digital visits to Toronto city council and “Ford Nation” it’s good to get back to the relative sanctuary of Calgary city council where polite discourse lives on and no one gets fat lips from the mayor.

The one thing we also don’t have is apologies especially when it comes to the money formerly known as the “$52 million” and now called the “Provincial Property Tax Room.” Until November 18 city council had a policy to automatically take the property tax room left by the provincial government. During the recent election this was framed as the hearty debate about the $52 million that resulted from this policy (technically it was $52 million over five years) and where it should go.

The fact this policy hit the shredder is a good thing and the election proved it.

What was remarkable to me was that so many folks during the campaign believed they knew where the tax room money was going yet clearly there wasn’t agreement on it. Many believed it was going towards flood relief others flood repair and some thought it was going to service an infrastructure deficit. The problem was that the politicians also showed a similar lack of consistency. One would say it was for flood relief while another would say it was for infrastructure improvement and both would claim the priorities were clearly laid out.

Well now if the priorities were so clearly laid out then why did we have such a lack of clarity around the priorities? Answer: because the priority was politics and to be fair both sides of the $52 million debate played it.

Should we automatically be keeping money when we have no clear and agreed upon priorities? No. Should we be asking Calgarians if the city should keep the money? Yes.

If the money’s there to be spent priorities will be established. But are they the right priorities? Are they priorities that can be accounted for once the money is spent? These are the questions that weren’t answered and these were the questions that lingered in my mind as an election candidate.

The fact that the city could use an additional $52 million isn’t in dispute. The question is how that money will be used and whether it would be done with accountability. Until the policy allowing city administration to automatically take the provincial tax room was shredded on Monday those two questions were not sufficiently answered. Terms like “flood relief” “flood repair” and “infrastructure improvement” were sufficient. They may still be.

With the decision on the provincial tax room now annually in the hands of city council thanks to the notice of motion brought forward by Councillor Shane Keating at least citizens have an opportunity to voice their opinions to their representatives. With the defeat of the second part of Keating’s motion which would have seen administration craft a detailed list of needs for approval by council however each councillor can bring forward their own list of priorities for the annual provincial tax room decision.

I’m not sure which is worse: one ambiguous list of priorities or 15 lists of clear but conflicting priorities.