municipal politics

Cochrane’s Sacred Cows

Warning: This post is longer than most and contains a lot of words.

Well, we’re heading into the homestretch of the “silly season” in municipal politics, that time when the papers and facebook feeds are full of familiar promises. More amenities! Lower taxes! Small town feel! Transit! To name just a few.

So here’s my 2 cents on some of the “sacred cows” of the current municipal election, in no particular order of importance.

Aquatic Center and Curling Rink: Possibly one of the largest municipal projects ever attempted in this town, the 54 million dollar curling rink, aquatic center and associated upgrades is dominating the discussion. There seems to be general consensus that we NEED a pool, except for a few voices suggesting we show some restraint in times of economic uncertainty. Having just gone to the current pool this afternoon with my 2-year old I’m even more uncertain of this pressing need. 2$ Friday and the pool was WELL BELOW capacity. Like, we were the only ones in the hot tub for awhile.

Taxes: What would a municipal election be without promises to keep your taxes low? And would anyone be voted in on a “I’m going to raise your taxes” platform? Even though that’s pretty much an inevitable outcome? For once it’d be nice to see some honesty in a potential politician, something along the lines of “You say you want a bunch of shiny new amenities (aka a pool), but you don’t want your taxes to go up? Well, here’s your cake…feel free to eat it.”

Density: Not quite as prevalent in the conversation as the first two topics, but density is certainly flaring up in Airdrie, along with the connection to the Calgary Regional Partnership and the Calgary Metro Plan. It’s another sacred cow that needs to be examined closely. I would be highly questioning of anyone who suggests we can continue to build a bunch of single family homes with big lots and keep our taxes low. There are so many issues tied up in density targets that it’s tough to draw all the connecting dots for folks, but here’s a few;

  1. Density is more efficient. Less road, less sidewalk, less utility, less driving for the garbage truck. Theoretically less money required to service less infrastructure.
  2. Increasing density drives up the value of single family homes with big lots. Not a bad thing if you happen to be among the lucky folks who enjoy that luxury. Why pay a premium for a house with a big lot in Glenbow, when you can pay significantly less for a big house in Sunset, Fireside, Riversong, Heritage Hills, Heartland…etc.
  3. Dense developments are more affordable for young people. You know, the kinds of people that we might want to work in this town and have a family, and the ones who can’t afford those big houses right now.  They’re also the kinds of people that are going to work in those businesses that lease the 30,000sq ft in the new aquatic center…unlike the folks living in those big houses that have to drive to their job in the city to afford their mortgage in the small town!

Traffic: Ahhh…if only there was a system for moving large amounts of people quickly and efficiently on a network of roads and railways…wait….

Traffic is certainly an issue, and no, transit won’t fix it (but it certainly won’t hurt it). I’m sure there are people much smarter than I currently scratching their heads on what the hell to do about traffic in this town. Between terrible highway intersections, a railway that cuts through town, and a bunch of in/out access to large subdivisions…we’re pretty much screwed on the traffic front for the foreseeable future. Which is why I live in Glenbow, so that I can walk places. A good start would be some traffic circles…seriously. I spent a few months in New Zealand a few years ago and there were traffic circles everywhere. Way better for traffic flow than 4 way stops and signals.

Small town feel: That elusive, yet essential, quality that attracted so many of us to move to Cochrane in the first place. This might come as shocking news, but a small town feel is just that. A feeling. Whether you’re riding a bus, living in a new subdivision, swimming at a new pool or shopping for cheap plastic at Walmart, the only way to keep that “small town feel” alive and well is to act it out. Shop locally. Get to know your neighbors. Join (or start) a community association. Come out to the farmer’s market. Volunteer with a nonprofit. No town council or mayor has the power to turn you into a small town person, or to help a community keep that feeling. Sorry, this one’s up to you. Which, given how often politicians are able to keep their promises, is probably a good thing…

Local Economy: Again, this one’s being looked at by people much smarter and more in tune with economic development than I am. Certainly an 87% residential tax base isn’t very good, and we need to diversify our revenue streams. Here’s something to chew on… a lot of business owners were in favor of transit to and from Calgary. Why? Because there’s no labor market in Cochrane (or a very small one). Why? Because people who serve coffee and stock shelves can’t afford to live in this town. Why not? Because there’s a shortage of denser, affordable housing. Funny how all this is connected. And no, I don’t have any answers, other than people taking that small town feeling to heart and putting their money where their mouth is…shop local, preferably at small shops and at places that give back to the community.

There it is, the sacred cows as I see them. I have a feeling a few of them will be slaughtered shortly…it’ll be interesting to see which ones!

And stay tuned for some more in-depth analysis of various platforms, including my top picks for mayor and council, for whatever that’s worth to you.