Taxpayers need recall at city hall
For most of us, if we refuse to listen to our bosses and stink at our jobs, we get canned. This isn’t the case for local politicians. They can make a royal mess of things, ignore the people signing their paycheques and carry on doing damage until the next election.
It’s time for city council to be held to the same standard as the rest of us.
Recall rules would give citizens the ability to hand councillors and the mayor pink slips if they misbehave, ignore taxpayers and hike taxes. Premier Jason Kenney promised to implement recall legislation provincially, giving voters the ability to collect petitions, force a by-election and hold their MLA accountable for poor behaviour. So, why shouldn’t this extend to municipalities?
Alberta’s Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu said he’s considering tools to whip councillors in shape.
“There are options available to deal with council,” said Madu. “[Councillors] have the opportunity to prove to the people of Calgary they are listening to them … I have got something in my toolbox to step in if I am not satisfied.”
Outside of a wheelbarrow full of cotton swabs, local recall rules would be the best tool to really improve council’s listening skills.
And goodness knows council needs to do a better job listening to the people paying the bills. The city’s recent Fall Citizen Satisfaction survey showed more Calgarians demanding spending cuts than tax increases. The spring survey showed the same result. But instead of listening to taxpayers and cutting spending, councillors decided to smack families with a 7.5 per cent property tax hike and hammer some small businesses with double digit increases.
The professional arena deal is another prime example of councillors refusing to listen to Calgarians. The majority of feedback didn’t support spending tax dollars on a new NHL arena. But council still decided to rubberstamp nearly $300 million for the Flames’ owners, after only allowing a week of public consultation.
Taxpayers deserve the right to hold their elected officials accountable between elections. Imagine if small business owners could only hold their employees accountable once every four years. Well, you’d get the same shenanigans that are on display at city hall.
Accountability between elections is especially needed at Calgary city hall, where politicians have become comfortable breaking campaign promises. When vying for votes, then-candidate Jeff Davison promised taxpayers that he was against using tax dollars for a new professional arena. But once elected to the comfy council chair, Davison became booster-in-chief for the Flames’ owners.
A number of councillors ran on the promise to reform council’s platinum pension plan. But when the motion was brought forward by Coun. Jeromy Farkas, it quickly died on the floor without any support from the councillors who promised change.
On Monday, council will debate whether to end the goodbye-bonuses for councillors and city employees. About a year and a half ago, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation discovered the payments and started calling for an end to city employee good-bye bonuses, which average more than $10,000 for eligible employees. Since then, council has largely sat on its hands.
In 2017, the citizens’ compensation committee recommended council scrap its own goodbye-bonus. In classic city hall fashion, councillors didn’t listen.
Next Monday councillors need to show taxpayers that they are willing to listen and cut the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. And taxpayers need to have a tool to hold councillors accountable if they aren’t willing to listen and cut the fat.
It’s time for recall at city hall.
This column was originally published in the Calgary Sun on Dec. 14, 2019.