Mayor Naheed Nenshi is warning that Calgary wont bounce back as easily as other cities post-COVID, and is pressing the federal and provincial governments to help with the recovery.
Nenshi sent a letter to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on Thursday outlining Calgarys requests ahead of the next federal budget. The Liberal government hasnt yet set a date for the 2021 budget, but its expected in the weeks ahead.
I am very, very, very worried that our post-pandemic recovery will be difficult extremely difficult for too many people, Nenshi said. And we have the power to change that, and weve got to take that power.
He said the letter is quite a bit sharper than what he typically writes to Ottawa as part of his advocacy before budget time. It includes specific requests for help addressing the citys empty downtown office towers, more funding for affordable housing and confirmation that money will be available to avoid further delays to the Green Line LRT project.
Nenshi said much of Canada can expect a huge economic boom as the pandemic eases and it becomes safer for people to start doing things such as travelling and frequenting bars and restaurants again.
That will be true in Calgary, too, when the hospitality and arts sectors can restart. But that doesnt cover up for the fundamental unemployment problem that we have, Nenshi said.
Calgarys unemployment rate is above 10 per cent and the downtown vacancy rate is headed toward 30 per cent, pointing to devastation lurking in the wake of COVID-19, according to the mayor.
He said Calgary needs specific attention beyond broad national programs, and the feds need to recognize that.
Where Calgary goes, there goes the rest of Alberta, Saskatchewan and a huge chunk of British Columbia, he said.
Next week, the provincial government is also expected to table its first budget since the pandemic struck.
Nenshi said he hopes to see a fiscal plan that takes future economic development into account, but admitted he has literally no idea whats going to happen.
Last fall, former municipal affairs minister Tracy Allard warned cities about a fiscal reckoning that was in store because of the pandemics effect, and Finance Minister Travis Toews said Alberta was headed for a season in which theyd have to do more with less.
Nenshi said the government has recently been striking a more balanced tone, but hes still looking for the province to hold the line on capital grants for municipalities, as well as funding support for social services.
Im very nervous. If they start cutting capital spending at the moment we need stimulus, thats a kick in the teeth to any economic recovery that weve got, he said.
If they cut operating funding as little as it is to things like the low-income bus pass . . . thats a real problem for us.
Albertas 2021 budget is set for public release Feb. 25.