Surreal. Mind-blowing. An alternate reality — and not in a good way.
We’re here at city hall for a fifth day.
A fifth day where the city politicians nibble around the edges of an ever-growing budget but in the end don’t manage to move the planned tax hike down a point or a tenth of a point or a hundredth of a point.
In four years of hike upon hike, the so-called typical Calgary homeowner will be paying out about $300 a year more than today, in property taxes and selected rate increases.
Yes, it is quite the day, this fifth day where nothing was learned from the people’s uprising against the Olympic bid.
A fifth day that’s a gruelling retreat from reality where you realize some on city council don’t understand the budget.
Worse still, it looks like some on city council didn’t read the budget. I’d like to see their copies and what they highlighted.
On this fifth day you question whether city council realizes how they appear to those outside the walls of the Cowtown Kremlin.
You get an answer from someone within the walls: “They don’t have self-awareness.”
The fifth day, the library comes back to city council and wants more money. They get it.
The fifth day, arts groups get an increase on top of their increase and the city brass say they’ve scrimped and saved and ground down the budget and a councillor says they’ve made cuts.
The councillors do like to talk even when they often say little. They go down rabbit holes of pointlessness.
They drone on until you think they might start debating how many angels dance on the head of a pin.
If they find any angels they’ll be sure to tax them.
Nenshi says this is a very fair budget. The city is going to find a little money to help with horrible tax hikes on business but it’s nowhere near enough.
They pledge a fix in 2019.
Nenshi is a bit surprised. He didn’t hear as much as he thought from the so-called cost cutters on council.
“Listening to some of my colleagues over the past few weeks I would have thought more people would have taken out the sword,” says the mayor.
Nenshi figures when they went through the budget “they found the sword had already been wielded.”
More likely, they couldn’t find their sword or they don’t know which end of the sword is which or don’t know what a sword looks like.
Near the end of the fifth day, Coun. Jeromy Farkas proposes to hold the line on spending for cops, the fire department, snow clearing and utilities.
He wants a 5% cut on the rest of the budget.
Farkas must know this is a kamikaze mission.
Ward Sutherland, another councillor, gives Farkas a piece of his mind.
“If you can’t persuade people, if you can’t cooperate, if you can’t collaborate, you’re going to achieve zero.”
Council hands Farkas a zero. Not one member of city council votes with him.
Coun. Evan Woolley talks about one side in politics. Obviously, it’s the side he sees as attacking the city hall establishment.
That side is cynical, he says. They don’t care if Calgary’s future is dark or bright.
They think “division and resentment and political disruption is good.”
“When people are angry and afraid you can point to scapegoats or slander government as bloated and inefficient.”
NOTE TO COUN. WOOLLEY: Government is bloated and inefficient.
“When people are in trouble you can spin them against elites.”
How many movements of social change have been tarred and feathered with that brush?
On this fifth day, the script must play out.
Coun. Sean Chu wants to reduce the tax increases. He’s out of luck.
Joe Magliocca, the councillor sitting next to Chu, says “sorry buddy” and votes against him.
They’re not quite done.
The budget passes. Some councillors say it’s up to the politicians to find the cuts, not the city brass.
Er… in the real world doesn’t the board of directors give management their marching orders and the hired help recommend where the axe should fall.
As darkness falls, Farkas asks city council to direct city bigwigs to come up with ways to freeze spending or cut up to 5% next year.
Farkas fails again.
“Every day I get calls from people saying their mortgage is failing, their marriage is failing. I can’t help but think another failure is in there,” says the councillor, pointing at the city council chamber.
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