Incentivize is one of those particularly brutal words in the English language, appreciated only by bureaucrats and politicians.
Still, it’s not as ugly as its linguistic cousin, blackmail, which is what some folk might call recent goings-on at Calgary City Hall over the latest hot issue slapped with an obligatory crisis label, that being a serious lack of housing across Canada.
This situation is undoubtedly upsetting for all those who cannot afford or find a suitable home or apartment. It’s a state of affairs with many roots, although the previous, long-running, low-interest policy of the Bank of Canada that helped push up property prices to ludicrous levels, allied to the massive numbers of newcomers now flooding into this country, would rank high on a list of culprits.
Of course, those who helped create this sorry situation are now falling over themselves to come up with some cobbled-together solution, especially as polls show a lack of affordable housing is top of mind for the only cohort that really matters: future voters.
This is why the Trudeau government decided to “incentivize” cities across the land with a tempting promise of a bucketful of federal cash if they’d speed up housing project approvals and loosen zoning regulations. That was the carrot: the stick was that cities had to move fast if they wanted the money.
Now, when a lower level of government hears it could get money from one higher up the political food chain, it can move at a speed that would bemuse even the great Usain Bolt.
This is the real reason Mayor Jyoti Gondek recently called an emergency council meeting in a successful bid to push through some rather radical changes to long-standing housing policy in our city. The feds were engaging in an age-old form of political blackmail: literally passing the bucks and thereby blame onto the country’s mayors, and thus saving their political bacon.
It worked here in Calgary, but not before council members themselves were subjected to another form of incentivization; this one of the emotional variety.
Before the vote on relaxing zoning regulations to allow a veritable free-for-all in residential areas long designated as single-family neighbourhoods, a parade of unfortunate Calgarians got to tell their undoubtedly sad and frustrating stories of being unable to find a home to rent or buy.
‘I live in instability’: Survey shows one in four Calgarians can’t meet basic financial needs
City of Calgary’s application for Housing Accelerator Fund approved
What’s next, now that Calgary’s housing strategy has been approved?
Calgary council votes in favour of housing strategy after three-day meeting marathon
Previously, a handful of councillors had balked at the idea of such a controversial change in zoning, knowing only too well the likely uproar they’d face from their constituents if the plan came to fruition. But we’re all human, so when you listen to heartbreaking pleas from people facing homelessness it makes it difficult to remain aloof and vote with your head and not your heart. (We’ve seen this play out before. Remember the several days of personal testimony at council a handful of years ago when the Black Lives Matter movement was in the ascendancy? After listening to some harrowing tales of racial profiling by Calgary police, the councillors of the day came very close to permanently slashing the police budget in response.)
Maybe acting in haste and repenting at leisure should be part of the swearing-in screed for newbie councillors at city hall. Certainly, some of this current crop are prone to view complex issues through the lens of identity politics, often endorsing simplistic solutions that risk making matters worse, resulting in yet more division between citizens.
Anyhow, the incentives did their job: the Trudeau government essentially bribed cities to become future fall guys for Ottawa’s past ineptness, while some Calgary councillors previously worried about the ramifications of zoning changes were successfully swayed by the emotional appeal of those most affected by today’s housing shortage.
Is that any way to run a country or a city? Sadly, it seems so.