Calgary City Council Takes a Hit with New Arena Deal

The Calgary Saddledome on a summer’s evening. Photo by Jesse Boily.

Calgary City Council’s push to approve the new arena deal doesn’t engender much confidence from some Calgarians.

With talk of cut budgets for essential services in the news and strict budgeting practices being put to essential services, many Calgarians are questioning the legitimacy of so much public money going to the arena.

Council member Peter Demong told the Calgary Herald as much in a press conference on July 19.

“It’s all about the optics, and the optics of this are not looking good,” Demong said.

Calvin Long, a former paramedic, said he felt it was in bad taste to fund the arena in light of the budget cuts.

“It’s like going out and getting a new car when you can’t make rent,” Long said in an interview on Aug. 1.

“Maybe it’ll make more money down the road, but what about now?”

With little transparency from City Council on a timeline for these cuts, and a rushed-through proposal for the arena and entertainment centre, Calgarians feel they are being left out of the loop.

“It’s all so rushed, you have to wonder what they’re hiding?” SAIT student, Brian Harmon said, in an on campus interview on Aug. 2.

“Maybe it’s nothing, but we don’t get the time to find out it’s nothing.”

Bad Optics From Budget Cuts

With the budget cuts taking $9.3 million from the public transit budget, including $2.4 million from specialized transit services that provide accessibility to Calgarians in need, it’s likely the effects will be felt there long before shovels dig into the new arena project in 2021.

In 2018, there were reportedly 105.3 million trips taken on Calgary Public transit.

On top of transit cuts, the new budget proposal cuts $7 million from the police and $7.6 from emergency response, which, again, puts those most in need of help at higher risk.

Many think the $275 million the city is putting toward the new arena deal could lessen the sting of these cuts.

“Why are millionaires getting this money instead of EMTs and the green line?” Harmon asked.

The prioritization of a big project over day-to-day needs of the city also does not bode well for City Council.

“It doesn’t look like they care what happens to a lot of us,” Long said.

 “Maybe some folks won’t notice, but if you call for an ambulance, it’s going to be clear pretty fast.”

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