We Have One Shot at This

As a City Councillor, I have to wear at the very least two hats. The first hat is to represent the citizens of Ward 12. It’s the people in the communities of Riverbend, Quarry Park, Douglas Glen, McKenzie Towne, New Brighton, Copperfield, Mahogany, Auburn Bay, Cranston, Shepard and Seton that decided they wanted me to be their representative on Council. I take that very seriously. The other Councillors do the same for their communities and the citizens that elected them. But the second hat that I and all the other Councillors wear is to represent the City as a whole. We need to advocate for the communities we represent, but it can’t be at the detriment to the City of Calgary as a whole. We are all residents of Calgary – not just residents of our Wards. We need to do what is right for our City, even when that may not be exactly what we want for our Ward in a given moment.

Once again, of course, I am talking Green Line. Just last week I wanted to remind everyone that I am all in on the Green Line. This week, I need to respond to some of my colleagues and remind them that our goal as Councillors is to work for our Wards, but not at the detriment to the City as a whole. The Green Line is a project that I have been advocating we build for nine years now. We are finally close, with the southeast enabling works either completed or nearing completion and a Request for Qualifications for part of the project that closed on October 24th.

The Green Line is more than just a train – this is badly needed transit infrastructure that will help define the City for generations to come. The Green Line is city shaping, it is placemaking, and it will help make the city a more desirable location for businesses and an educated workforce to locate. Communities are being built and businesses are investing with the expectation that a train line is on its way to better move people, reduce commute times, and reduce reliance on personal vehicle travel.

While challenges to the Green Line have presented themselves, given the most recent funding news and construction clauses from the Provincial government, we as a Council must press forward. We should be united in efforts to secure funding for Phase II, to get the Green Line to North Pointe and to Seton. We need to press our partners in Edmonton on just how important this project is to the province. Strong cities make for a strong province and the Green Line is a crucial component of Calgary’s comeback.

Reacting to the delay in funding allocations and reverting to a BRT in response, strikes me as a rather defeatist response to a two or three year funding delay. Additionally, it’s odd that Councillors Chu and Magliocca are suddenly supportive of a BRT when they were adamantly against it when using the tax room for the Green Line/SETWAY was first proposed. We were also told back in 2015 that an interim busway was not optimal, given current ridership demand, the amount of road space required along Centre Street, and the high conversion costs to LRT. Additionally, this proposal lacks the consideration for the longer term operating costs. While we would see lower up front capital costs with a BRT, the overall operating costs would be significantly higher. An articulated bus costs the City 2.5 times more than an LRV in capital and operating costs over its lifetime, while a standard 40-foot bus costs the City 3.2 times more than an LRV.

We also have a partner at the federal level. A number of federal parties, including the governing Liberal party, have made transit a top priority in their platforms. Council should be united in sending a message to the federal government that increased investment in the Green Line will help them achieve some of their platform goals, while also helping to alleviate sentiments that Ottawa doesn’t care about the West. Engaging more support from Ottawa is one of my key goals as the City’s representative on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, as well as Chair of the Green Line Committee.

Speaking of that Green Line Committee, it is our goal to get creative and look at all possible scenarios to get this LRT built, given the funding constraints we are under from the Province. As I mentioned, I believe there is opportunity to work with the federal government to potentially change the funding mechanism and the amount until the provincial funding actually starts flowing. We have not heard every scenario for how to move forward on a Green Line LRT and the Green Line Committee will be the forum in which all possibilities can be presented. That same Committee will also be tasked with exploring strategies to extend the LRT beyond Stage 1, to get it to North Pointe and to Seton.

The Green Line Committee needs to be forward looking, committed to delivering the vision of transit connecting the City. The Green Line is a massive opportunity for Calgary and needs to be viewed as such by Council. Changing direction now, particularly when Administration has already completed its RFQ on Phase 1, could result in a massive reduction in investment to Calgary. Construction of the Green Line is anticipated to create 20,000 jobs in the City, with over $3 billion in funding coming from the other orders of government. While Bill 20 has created a host of problems in certainty around the project that we need to engage the Province on, Bill 20 also clearly states “The Crown commits to providing $1 530 000 000 to the City of Calgary…. By the end of fiscal year 2027-2028 for the purposes of the construction of light rail transit projects.” There is the possibility that switching to a BRT jeopardizes not only the provincial funding, but the federal funding as well. I believe Council needs to show continued support and unity to the Green Line LRT and continue to advocate for support to ensure that fast, reliable, efficient LRT options become available to residents in every corner of the City.

The LRT on the Green Foundation released a letter yesterday, stating in part that “a report on Green Line staging should have been delivered two years ago. Instead of endless debates on alternatives to Stage 1, the LRT on the Green Foundation encourages Council to stop waiting on Administration and to show leadership by asserting itself and tackling the staging issue.” I think they are absolutely right and this is something the Green Line Committee will need to turn its attention to. But we can’t do that if members are spending their time bickering, and trying to change the Green Line into a potential billion-dollar interim solution that won’t hold up long-term. We need to continue moving forward, together. Light Rail is the most viable option in the medium and long term, with the need in both the Southeast and North Central Calgary right now. The only way to get light rail transit to these citizens is by getting its construction started somewhere.

Administration has an approved plan. We may be able to make minor tweaks to that plan, but they must only be that. We as Council need to shift our focus now to what’s next. We need to address the issue of land acquisition for the North Central leg of the Green Line. We need to fight for funding from the other orders of government to deliver the entire Green Line. We need to get that plan for the future to Administration to complete the work on. We need to be forward thinking and ensure that what we build as able to serve the capacity needed not only today, but in the future. We need to be responsible stewards of the public money dedicated to the Green Line and not waste it by spending the money first on a BRT only to then spend even more money on a costly conversion. Let’s get the Green Line built and do it right the first time.