On July 23, the Calgary city council voted 13 to one in favour of $60 million in spending cuts. This comes over a month after a group of small business owners rallied at city hall in protest of rising property taxes. In response, the city unanimously passed a $103.9 million tax relief plan which, in turn, is being funded through appalling slashes to public services.
The package details sweeping cuts to several frontline and essential services. City council will be reducing funding to the Housing Incentive Program, a plan that provides rebates and grants to non-profit housing, by $188,000. This will reduce the number of homes supported by the program by 52, or 13 per cent, in a time where working Calgarians, especially those stuck working minimum wage, are already struggling to find affordable housing. The budget is also set to cut public transportation by $6.9 million, as well as specialized transit —largely for those with disabilities — by a further $2.4 million.
Fire and emergency services, too, will receive cuts. A cut of over $7.6 million will eliminate four
medical response units and one rescue unit from the frontlines. City administration openly admits in the budget campaign that “this will reduce service for critical medical interventions and emergency response city wide and increased response times.” Make no mistake, these are measures that will put people’s lives at risk. City council seems less than bothered by endangering the city to fund handouts for businesses.
Calgary’s Indigenious Relations office will receive less funding as well, meaning that less money will be going towards the city’s obligations in the Truth and Reconciliation Act. Support for the Youth Employment centre will also be reduced, leaving young workers struggling for employment in Alberta’s economic recession out to dry. Cuts to funding and arts are just salt in the wound, decreasing the access working Calgarians have to leisure in the face of these new expenses.
Calgarians have taken to rallying against the cuts before the budget package was even released. On July 22, around 250 members of Keep Calgary Strong, a coalition that represents over 30 different religious organizations, advocacy groups, and unions, took to city hall to protest the cuts. The city scandalously silenced and ejected the protesters from the building. One protester showed her disappointment in saying: “I’m really disappointed with city council. Because this is the first time I’ve been here and everyone has been kicked out and everyone has been silenced. And we voted them in. They should listen to us.” Anger is palpable, especially among workers in Calgary who are finding themselves in an increasingly difficult situation.
The trade unions, representing the organized work force in the city have a huge role to play in beating back these attacks. But for this to happen, bold initiatives to channel the anger of the people are needed. Every attack must be met with mass mobilizations of the working people of Calgary, with demonstrations and pressure tactics leading up to strike action to stop these attacks in their tracks.