A response to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB)

Throughout the election, a handful of advocacy groups and community associations ask for candidates' position on local issues. Here's my response to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). For many of the questions the CFIB required us to either "oppose" or "support" complex issues. I refused to provide a simple explanation.

Narrow the wages/benefits disparity between municipality and private sector employees (currently gap is 14%).

The implication of the CFIB’s desire to narrow the gap between municipal and private sector employees is to seek cuts to municipal employees’ pay and benefits. I believe this is a short-sighted and erroneous policy stance. The benefits to Regina of reasonable pay and benefits in the public sector – both in terms of the disposable income spent in the city by municipal employees and in terms of the positive influence on private sector wages and benefits norms – should not be underestimated. To narrow the pay and benefits gap, Council and the business community should be encouraging sustainable improvements in private sector pay and benefits. Local businesses depend on consumers having disposable income to spend in the community. Seeking reductions in the disposable income and economic security of an important employment and consumer sector in Regina that spends its income locally doesn’t make sense, particularly in the midst of an economic downturn.

Develop and implement a plan to reduce the commercial-to-residential property tax gap.

According to the Canada West Foundation, there is no evidence to support the claim that property taxes across the local government sector are out of control. In fact, relative disposable income and GDP, property taxes are at some of their lowest levels in 45 years. Had property taxes kept pace with provincial GDP growth, for example, cities like Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, and Winnipeg would have collected $1.3 billion more in property tax in 2007 alone.

Regarding the commercial-residential ratio, Regina has one of the lowest ratios in Canada after Saskatoon at 1.56; across Canada that ratio ranges from 2.06 in Winnipeg to 4.49 in Vancouver. Over time, the property tax burden has been systematically shifted onto residential property owners. Residential property owners in Regina are already carrying a greater tax burden than elsewhere in Canada. Fixing the gap would involve ensuring that commercial property is paying its fair share.

Municipalities should measure and reduce the total number of regulatory requirements imposed on businesses.

Not all regulations are the same. Each regulation must be examined to make an evidence-based assessment. I do believe that cities should assess and process applications as expediently as possible while taking into consideration community interests, existing policies, and broader municipal objectives. Regulations have a place, but we need to make sure they are managed and implemented in a cost-effective, timely, fair, and transparent manner.

What are your plans to make your city more business-friendly?

By all measures Regina and Saskatchewan have a tax, regulatory, and political climate that is extremely friendly to business. Interestingly, many of the small businesses in my community thrived in periods when taxes were higher and regulations more stringent. That’s because they possess a solid business model based on fostering relationships with employees and customers, and providing goods and services that people want at prices the community can afford.

Based on my conversations with small business owners and small business employees in Ward 3, their enterprises rely a great deal on foot traffic, word of mouth, and, most importantly, local consumer spending power.

Business interests could be well served by making Regina easier to get around efficiently and affordably by bus and other modes of transportation. Come to Cathedral by bus so you don’t have to worry about parking and clog up residential parking, shop on 13th, then grab lunch downtown before you take an efficient transit system home. We should also be designing communities that allow for densification and mixed commercial-residential spaces, in accordance with the Official Community Plan and Neighbourhood Plans. Sprawl only makes matters worse.

When we ask how we can make the City more business-friendly, we also have to ask how we can make business more City-friendly. As Councilor, I will build a strong working relationship with the Downtown Business Improvement District – which oversees an area of Ward 3 in which over 30,000 residents work – to see how the City can boost economic development in that critical area of Regina. That means creating and maintaining parks, cultural centres, and recreation opportunities, as well as developing a proper transportation hub that is inviting to people from around the city.

Most business owners also want to see a City that is receptive to their concerns and improves on customer service. Many individuals I spoke with are frustrated that a construction crew showed up with only a few days’ notice before commencing major repairs. This is unacceptable. Residents and businesses alike deserve several weeks’ notice for non-emergency work as well as an estimated time of completion. These complaints are legion and have been expressed to me by residents and business owners throughout the community.   

Question 3. Which of the following options do you support for financing your municipality?

Increased savings through operational efficiencies (e.g. contracting out services to the private sector)

Yes, I support finding savings through operational efficiencies, but not through the contracting out of services to the private sector. A growing body of evidence on municipal outsourcing suggests that it increases costs while the quality of service declines. Does this mean that Regina should prohibit all contracting out of services? No. But experience has shown that key services like waste removal, street maintenance, and snow clearing, are better left in-house.