Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi speaks to media as council started its strategic meetings this week on several proposed megaprojects.
Well, at least he was right about one thing: there wasn’t anything remotely beautiful about city council’s inevitable retreat behind those much-loved closed doors in order to discuss the future of Calgary.Yep, with about $1.7 billion of ratepayers’ cash at stake due to the veritable bucket list of “must have” capital projects on the civic drawing board, only the blessedly naive could have expected that any thrashing out of actual details attached to such a deluge of megaprojects would be debated in front of a quizzical and skeptical public.Heavens no, we simply can’t let the rabble in. They might ask questions not on the agenda.After all, what do simple Calgarians know about new hockey arenas, convention centres, field houses, theatre complexes and such like? Only that we’ll be picking up much of the final bill for whatever makes the civic cut. Other than that, not a blessed thing, except what we’ve gleaned from various spin doctoring courtesy of project supporters.We’re informed every one is a financial no-brainer that will help Calgary attract thousands of well-heeled visitors to our fair city. Heck, why watch a play in New York or London if, instead, you can jet across the stark prairies — waving at Saskatchewan through that tiny oval window at 35,000 feet — to take in the same show at Calgary’s swanky new theatre complex?And why, after half a century of waiting for a field house, do we need one now? Maybe 50 years ago we had the cash. Now small businesses are going to the wall, we can’t get our oil to market, we owe billions and anyone not sucking on that public service sweet nipple remains unsurely shaking in her or his shoes.Then there’s this future hockey arena. So where are the Flames in all of this? Are we considering building the darn thing without their involvement? And as for the BMO Centre expansion, is this only leading the pack because other levels of government have already pledged a chunk of dough?Maybe picking through the leavings of a discarded agenda allows someone to figure all this stuff out, but, honestly, the onus for sifting through these particular civic tea leaves should not be placed upon regular Calgarians.Yet what do we hear from the person supposed to be our fearless leader, voted into the mayor’s chair to represent the people and not use that office as a stepladder to lecture those not allowed into closed discussions?“The design of this was not to have a beauty contest between them and to sort of make decisions on which ones to pursue and which ones not to pursue,” said Naheed Nenshi, adding Monday’s meeting was to explore financing and funding options. This meant third-party information would be kept confidential. Then off he trotted behind those well-oiled closed doors.What arrogant, mealy-mouthed rubbish.If these third parties don’t want their plans debated in public, then they should stop asking for ratepayers’ money and build their own darn field house, theatre complex, hockey arena or whatever other structure they desire from their own pockets or from private investors.But if they want our dough, then they can stand in the public bear pit and answer all questions, whether nasty or nice.This assorted civic crew has learned not a single thing from the Olympic bid fiasco. Don’t treat Calgarians as simpletons, kick everything to administration to sort out and emerge once in a while to toss us a tasty sound bite and use “trust us” as an endless civic mantra.Because, regardless of the value of these projects, imagine putting them to voters in a referendum today. The mood is so sour, the secrecy so pervasive, that every single one would be shot down in flames. Wake up and let some light in. People are not stupid. If there’s value, they’ll see it.Beauty contest? No, this is the Ugly Bug Ball – admission by private invitation only.Chris Nelson is a regular columnist in the Calgary Herald.