If every resident of Calgary wasn’t already feeling the pain of the collapse of oil prices, they soon could be. Although the emptying downtown office towers and idled rural rigs have been going on for five years, impacting thousands, the continually spreading economic malaise this week began turning up in property tax bills.
Reporter Justin Giovannetti introduces readers this weekend to Kelly Doody, who runs a small business teaching digital marketing to entrepreneurs. As Justin writes, she is still reeling a week after she learned the property-tax bill on the Calgary building where she operates her business is set to increase at the start of July to $6,425 from $1,356 a month.
More than 8,000 businesses in the city are facing double-digit property-tax increases at the end of the month as the city looks to find others to pick up the pieces in the wake of plummeting revenues elsewhere.
The value of dozens of gleaming towers in downtown Calgary has crashed. A case in point: Fifth Avenue Place in downtown Calgary, a two-tower blue-glass structure that was once the headquarters of Imperial Oil, had been valued at $916-million in 2015. That dropped to $429-million by 2018. A year later, it’s down to $231-million.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi notes the city must balance its books by law. A plea for help from Premier Jason Kenney was met with advice to live within the city’s means.
Mr. Nenshi said Ms. Doody’s situation was extreme, but not unusual. He said there are about 8,000 businesses facing property-tax increases of 10 per cent and some that are looking at “giant increases” of 30 per cent or more.
He said the city will be forced to look at deep structural changes to the tax program and that could require shifting more of the tax burden onto residents.
Council approved a 3.45-per-cent hike on residential property taxes this year.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West:
Opioids: A Vancouver city councillor wants to encourage her colleagues to look at workarounds to provincial cannabis legislation with an eye to providing the drug at discounted prices to the population of the Downtown Eastside.
Rebecca Bligh is hoping it might help those addicted to opioids experiment with getting off the frequently deadly drug in favour of cannabis. She knows her proposal is not based on rock-solid science. But she maintains that early research suggests there could be benefits. And Ms. Bligh and other community workers believe the time is right for dramatic action.
The local health authority, which is in charge of the regional response to the overdose crisis, opposes the idea, and the provincial ministry of public safety, which is overseeing legalization of cannabis in British Columbia, has been non-committal.
Abortion drug: The abortion pill will soon be available at no cost in every province, after the last two hold-outs , Manitoba and Saskatchewan, announced this week they would provide Mifegymiso for free.
On Friday, the government of Saskatchewan announced it would cover 100 per cent of the drug’s cost for residents, effective immediately. Earlier this week, the Manitoba government said it would also begin providing universal coverage for Mifegymiso, but did not specify when coverage would start. Premier Brian Pallister has hinted he may call an election in the province soon, which could throw the abortion-pill coverage into question.
This week, the Northwest Territories also announced it will fund Mifegymiso for people who don’t have another insurance plan. This leaves Nunavut as the only part of Canada without some form of abortion-pill coverage.
War room: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced details of how his so-called war room will work. The war room, a campaign promise, is aimed at debunking what the Kenney government considers misinformation about fossil fuels and Alberta’s oil and gas industry.
“We will no longer accept the campaign of lies and defamation,” Mr. Kenney said Friday in announcing the war room will get help from social-media personalities with the like-minded mission of confronting environmentalists and silencing foes of the oil sands. Mr. Kenney pointed to a recent National Geographic story critical of the oil sands as an example of what the new office will combat.
Mr. Kenney was accompanied Friday by blogger Vivian Krause, noting it’s people like her that the government wants to work with on social media. Ms. Krause routinely skewers the environmental movement and its backers.
D-Day insult: A Victoria city councillor maintains his proposal to get the federal government to cover the expense of the city’s Remembrance Day ceremonies so the city doesn’t have to wasn’t timed to cause offence. But city council was dealing with his idea on Thursday, the same day veterans and international leaders were gathered in solemn ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Ben Isitt said the idea is simply “good policy,” but introduced with unfortunate timing, the result of a conversation with police around costs for Canada Day.
The backlash was swift, with Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West calling it a “classless, shameful move,” and the Canadian Legion pointing out it wasn’t only the federal government that benefited from the bravery of Canada’s soldiers.
Mr. Isitt lashed out in an opinion piece posted to Medium.com in which he blamed “conservative political forces and their agents in the corporate media” for the furor.
James Riley on the roadblocks to energy efficiency in Ontario and Alberta: “Despite the benefits that energy-efficiency programming generates for Canadians – fewer greenhouse gas emissions, yes, but also lower utility bills, and better homes – Premier Doug Ford has axed Ontario’s home-retrofit programs, while Alberta Premier Jason Kenney vowed to do the same on the campaign trail, even as his government now suggests it will judge programs by their merit before a final decision is made.”
Travis Lupick on decriminalization of opioids: “Canada’s opioid epidemic is an emergency without precedent. And yet, heading into the 2019 federal election, there is nothing that Mr. Trudeau can point to and say “a re-elected Liberal government will do this to reduce overdose deaths.” Decriminalization could be that idea."
Lorimer Shenher on what happens to policing in the wake of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls: “The report itemizes paths to change policing in Canada. While I would have liked to see mention of the RCMP Act and the Ministry of Public Safety’s role in creating and enforcing any repercussions for officers who exhibit racial and gender bias, the report does call for the creation of an independent unit to investigate police misconduct against Indigenous peoples. Ideally, this unit would investigate police misconduct against all minorities and vulnerable people, but it’s a start.”