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Nelson: Calgary city council’s grasp on reality approaches net zero


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We have running gun battles on our streets, but one councillor wants help in making sure nobody steals his bike.

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Yes, Gian-Carlo Carra believes city hall bureaucrats should solve Calgarians’ omnipresent fear of rampant bike theft, after recently jettisoning a planned pedal downtown because he might subsequently face a rather long walk home.

Cynics might suggest a sturdier bike lock would be the simplest solution, but then Carra is hardly alone on this city council in believing what he grandiosely described as his “lived experience” should be the clarion call to civic action.

A fellow councillor, Dan McLean, immediately saw the need for more policing when his pickup truck was stolen and damaged by joyriders, while colleague Sonya Sharp was adamant administration find out why so many senior-level women are quitting city hall after noticing several of her circle move on.

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Previously, those elected to council were expected to serve citizens, to take into account their worries, concerns and suggestions. How quaint that seems today. Now we exist merely to serve those elected, like indentured serfs housed on the lands of some omnipotent feudal lord or lady.

Calgary is fast becoming similar to those ubiquitous, virtual-reality Sims games: an alternative make-believe universe where a lucky few players can roll out their own dreams and desires by merrily conjuring up some future city. The hoi polloi can simply sit and watch in rapturous admiration.

That’s why we’re now inundated with picayune bylaws and debates that do little other than tickle the fancy of some councillor or other: our favourite bird, smoking bans in city parks, booze allowed in those exact same parks, noisy snow blowers, backyard chickens, little patches on cops’ uniforms. The list grows daily.

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But one thing’s certain; the majority of Calgarians have more serious worries causing sleepless nights. Yet, strangely, these issues don’t get much oxygen down at city hall.

Let’s name a few: rampant inflation, regular deadly shootings, a horrific opioid epidemic, an increasingly dangerous transit system, a morale-sapped police service, the future of an aging arena and, last but not least, endless tax hikes.

Yes, it would be churlish to suggest council is either entirely responsible or actually capable of resolving such major problems. But surely those issues deserve more time, effort and imagination than instead asking the administration to delve into the intricacies of bicycle theft or perhaps holding plebiscites on what’s our most beloved fish.

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Ah, but we’re just scratching the surface. Because, when it comes to this alternate Calgary Simsville, the juiciest adventure is just getting rolling.

This week, a council committee backed a strategy to reduce citywide carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 at an eye watering cost of $87 billion.

Failing to do so could cost about $7.8 billion a year by the 2080s, announced the city’s climate change and environment manager, Dick Ebersohn. Well, not doing anything might cost him his job, so we should take that remarkable bit of economic and environmental soothsaying with a pinch of salt.

But, of course, everyone invited to speak to the committee had skin in this game. Such happy, invite-only gabfests are there simply to provide reflective reassurance, a bit like Narcissus enjoyed when first gazing into that famous pool.

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Inviting someone to point out climate is global, so if the likes of China, India, Indonesia and Russia don’t take equally stringent measures, then whatever Calgary spends is wasted, would be akin to telling a Monopoly winner you can’t actually sleep in any of those hotels you bought. (Hint: global coal usage is expected to hit all-time highs this year.)

Nope, this is Calgary Simsville at its finest, where even suggesting council’s own climate policy could be tossed out alongside the current gaggle of councillors come the next election if citizens tire at ever-increasing rate hikes, is taboo.

So, maybe trying to prevent Coun. Carra’s bike being stolen isn’t a bad idea after all. At least it won’t cost us $87 billion.

Chris Nelson is a regular columnist for the Calgary Herald.

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