Thursday, July 12, 2012

Open Letter to the Government of the Province of Alberta

An Open Letter to the Government of the Province of Alberta
Attention: Honourable Premier Allison Redford
Re: Taxpayer concerns

Over the past several months, I have been talking with and listening to many citizens all over Alberta, who have been asking questions and expressing concerns over the proposed Edmonton Downtown Arena District project. The funding plans for this project will have a large impact on both the residents of Edmonton and all taxpayers in Alberta, who feel strongly that their voices are not being heard by Edmonton City Council.

With global economic conditions in their current state, taxpayer funds should be directed towards those things required to keep society stable. Alberta residents are literally funding the vast majority of this development yet will receive no profits. All profits are being diverted to a billionaire with a reported net worth of an estimated $2.8 billion dollars.[i]

I urge the Government of Alberta to deny funds from the Community Revitalization Levy program that have been requested towards this project. The CRL is nothing more than a tax shift that future generations will be required to pick up. All over North America these types of projects have been pitched to taxpayers, and in the end they almost always fail. The New York Times reported on June 26th 2012 the following:[ii]

“Surprised local taxpayers from Stockton, Calif., to Scranton, Pa., are finding themselves obligated for parking garages, hockey arenas and other enterprises that can no longer pay their debts.”

There is no reason to believe that the City of Edmonton’s proposal will have some secret miracle attached to it that none of the others have had.

Recently, Councilor Kerry Diotte initiated an informal survey with respect to this issue, with the following results:

“We found that 68% of respondents want a new arena built in Edmonton. However, a significant number tell us they either want a new financial framework than the one currently proposed, or don't want a new arena built at all. The majority of respondents also indicated the City should not consider using provincial MSI money to fund the remaining $100 million.”

Additional Issues

The MGA (Municipal Government Act) states that 10% of the population is required for requesting a petition, but only eligible voters are allowed to sign that. According to the City of Edmonton website, the last civic election only showed a turnout of 33.4% of voters. Less than 200,000 people out of almost 600,000 eligible, suggesting people feel their voices do not count.

With the population exceeding 800,000 people, the petition would require more than 80,000 signatures. Since the trend is for people to not care, how can these numbers realistically ever be achieved? The rules need to be changed in order to show citizens that their voices actually do count.

I would suggest a different formula is needed. Using Edmonton as an example, maybe something like 25% of the last election turnout would be a more workable number. (Example: 25% of 200,000 voters require 50,000 eligible voters to sign the petition.) Again, these petitions are only to request that a vote be held on the matter. Also, petitions filed by residents should supersede those filed “after the fact” by Council.

Additionally, I understand the Province is looking to make some changes prior to the 2013 civic election in Edmonton, with respect to going to a 4 year term from a 3 year term. I see this as an opportunity for the Province to prove to the residents that they do listen.

If there ever was a time to change the Elections Act to include clauses that deal with ‘election promises’, this would be it. Those running for public office must clearly understand that the things they promise must be honored. There is zero tolerance in the defense of “Oh, I really didn’t understand the ….. before I said that”. If you do not understand something then you should not be talking about it and making promises.

Politicians must understand they have a huge responsibility in managing taxpayer dollars. When our basic service requirements for safe roads and infrastructures are being put on the backburner in order for taxpayer dollars to be diverted for the “nice to have” things, something is terribly wrong with the system. It may only be a dollar here and a dollar there but if you only have 100 dollars and there are 150 projects all taking one dollar from you…

There is a reason why the global world economy is in the state it is, we do not need to be adding to the problem. Everyone has to budget, and live within their means. We are not in a time where we can afford the luxuries.

As a final note, I have heard there will be discussions with the major cities, where one of the items is dealing with allowing cities the power of taxation. I strongly object to this, especially considering the current City Council in Edmonton. It is my belief they do not understand the impact their decisions will have on the future, and just expect taxpayers to keep handing money over. Allowing the imposition of even more taxes is just wrong.

Thank you for your understanding in these matters.

Gary McCallum

Cc: Provincial parties and Edmonton City Councilors

Fax to: Premiers Office 780-427-1349
            Alberta Liberals 780-427-3697 780-414-1125
            Alberta NDP 780-415-0701
            Wild Rose 780-638-3506

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