McCAFFREY: Don’t let Calgary ruin the region

The Calgary Metropolitan Region Board (CMRB) was established in 2015 by the NDP government to oversee the planning and development of the entire Calgary region.

Since then, this unelected body has worked to create a new growth plan for the region that contains some of the most radical changes to development and planning rules ever proposed in Alberta.

With the enactment of this growth plan, the CMRB is poised to become what will effectively be a fourth level of government for the citizens of the Calgary area and allow Calgary to export its bad policies to all other municipalities in the region. region.

Yet hardly anyone in the Calgary area has even heard of the council.

How is it possible that a new level of government can be introduced without anyone noticing?

Well, in part, it’s thanks to a very deliberate effort by the former NDP government, and the council itself, to keep the powers and the extensive potential influence of the council as under the radar as possible for as long as possible. .

The council, at least according to its designers, is simply meant to help manage planning and development issues, in order to help manage the significant population growth that the Calgary area is expected to experience in the coming decades.

Make no mistake, the CMRB and its growth plan are doing so much more than that.

The whole growth plan is based on the philosophy that a small group of people, in this case bureaucrats and planners, especially in Calgary, can better plan and manage population and employment growth. than the free market.

Central planners believe that the challenges of growth are best met by forcing municipalities in the Calgary area to cooperate rather than compete with each other to provide these services and facilities.

Rather than just allowing cooperation among municipalities as it is claimed, however, the creation of the CMRB and the implementation of the growth plan actually requires Calgary and the surrounding municipalities to cooperate on many issues, even when it comes to against the will of municipalities and their residents.

Requiring municipalities to cooperate even if they believe it is against their interests and those of their residents can only lead to less fair and less equitable outcomes for the entire Calgary region.

Worse yet, forced cooperation does not go both ways.

Despite claims that the council is based on cooperation, all 10 member municipalities are obligated to participate in the organization, they cannot leave, and the council’s voting system effectively vetoed Calgary on every issue.

In effect, it places Calgary politicians and bureaucrats in charge of planning and development for the entire region, because without Calgary’s approval no plan or development can move forward.

It is no accident that the board was very deliberately created to do just that.

For years Calgary pursued bad public policies that increased rules, regulations, red tape and taxes on businesses and residents of Calgary.

The situation has become so dire that now many businesses and residents are leaving Calgary entirely and moving their businesses and family life out of town in one of the many surrounding municipalities, where regulations and taxes are lighter.

Essentially, Calgary is no longer competitive with other municipalities in the region, but Calgary planners do not see this as a problem, but rather as an opportunity.

But Calgary did not want to solve the problem by cutting red tape, bringing taxes and spending under control, and working to become competitive again.

Rather, the city lobbied the provincial government to help them by giving Calgary the power to impose the same high levels of regulation across the region, essentially killing the competition.

It was perhaps not surprising that the former NDP government was willing to give that power to Calgary, as the NDP government does not understand or believe in the benefits of free market competition from the start.

But the current Alberta government has said time and again that its primary goal is to cut red tape and free up Alberta’s economy. They have made considerable efforts to achieve this goal in many other policy areas.

However, in terms of spatial planning, they have, so far at least, allowed the exact opposite to continue.

Rather than cutting red tape and regulations to revive the Calgary region’s economy, in almost every policy area, the growth plan goes completely the other way and essentially centralizes planning decisions for the whole. of the region.

All types of development (single family homes, townhouses, apartments, shopping malls, retail stores, manufacturing, warehouses, agricultural services, etc.) will now need to be approved not only by the local municipality, but also by an unelected council. dominated by Calgary.

Throw out the window any concept of the free market, individual choice, property rights, competition and, frankly, basic economics.

This dramatic centralization will impose a series of significant direct and indirect costs on the Calgary-area economy, none of which are factored in by the CMRB in its growth plan.

These costs include the millions of dollars spent to create and operate what is effectively a fourth level of government, the significant costs to Calgary businesses, residents and economy due to this additional bureaucracy, the considerable costs that would be incurred by projects being reduced, relocated or canceled as part of the growth plan, as well as indirect and intangible costs.

The plan also violates local democracy in the member municipalities and the property rights of the inhabitants of these municipalities.

What exactly is the point of electing a local council in your district or town, if the rules of planning and development – until now one of the most important tasks of a local government – will now be scrutinized in such a way? centralized by an unelected council?

Worse yet, this shift from voluntary to forced cooperation will not solve the very problems that the CMRB and the Growth Plan were designed to solve.

The end result of a growth plan that replaces voluntary cooperation and competition with forced collaboration will be increased taxes and fees, more regulation and paperwork, increased housing and infrastructure costs, delivery less efficient utilities and services; and worse environmental outcomes for the entire region.

There are much better ways to accommodate future population growth in the Calgary area than through a centralized, top-down regional growth plan that violates the values ​​that made Alberta what it is today: individual freedom, personal choice, fiscal responsibility, property rights, and a free market based on competition rather than government diktat.

The proposed growth plan would lock in billions of dollars in investment, redirect billions more out of the Calgary area and cost tens of thousands of jobs. This is the exact opposite of what the Calgary region currently needs.

The CMRB, and the requirement for them to create a growth plan to control development in the region, was an ideological creation of the former provincial government, based on the idea that top-down central planning is the best way to manage an economy.

Central planning is not working and the current government should correct this error as soon as possible by abolishing the CMRB and allowing municipalities to return to cooperation on a voluntary basis.

Peter McCaffrey is the President of the Alberta Institute, an independent, libertarian-minded public policy think tank that seeks to advance personal freedom and choice in Alberta.

The Alberta Institute has prepared an academic research paper describing the history of regional planning in the Calgary area and examining the implications of the Calgary Metropolitan Area Council on jobs, investment and democracy for Alberta.


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