We finally located the candidate of Ward 2 while he was shovelling the icy debris that the city snowplough had deposited in front of his driveway.
“Are you Theo van Besouw, the Ward 2 candidate?” we asked.
He answered, “Yes I am. Are you here to help me shovel my driveway?”
“No, we are not, but we want to ask you some questions”.
With some expression of disappointment, he put aside his shovel and let us into his backyard where we were greeted by two, large dogs. “Don’t worry about them. They have been fed so they should be ok.” After we were seated in the gazebo at a by Dr. Hinshaw prescribed social distance, we commenced our interview.
What made you decide to run for Ward two?
Blame that on the “Nextdoor” website. I made a comment that I was unhappy with our City Council performance and suggested that I could do better and received within one day about 70 responses encouraging me to run. After talking to some friends whose opinions I hold in high esteem, I decided that my background and experience could very well be an asset to the community. In fact, looking at the present slate of councillors, I can do hardly any worse.
How did you go from there?
Well, I looked at the City website as to what is required and started the process of getting signatures. That was not easy, as with Covid you just can’t go from door to door but you have to make appointments. Simultaneously, I worked on contents for my website, because people need to know who you are and what you stand for.
So, what do you stand for?
Excellent question and I sincerely hope that each and every candidate will be asked the same. Too often candidates get elected and act totally different to what they say they would, so it is essential to explore where they are coming from when dealing with upcoming issues.
OK, but you did not answer the question.
Right. It is a stalling technique allowing to formulate my thoughts because to explain this is somewhat complicated. I may have mentioned before that it is time to separate the “needs” from the “wants”. That sounds nice, but it is not easy to get consensus on such basic concepts. What is perceived as a “need” for one person, can very well be a “want” for another. Visit any family with teenagers and they can tell you that many disagreements arise because the parents see “wants” for what their kids consider “needs”.
How do you project that on a city?
To harness the meaning of “need” in city context, one must have an idea of what, exactly, needs to be accomplished. Let me try this on for measure: a “need” is something, that when solved will lead to maximizing the potential of as many people as possible. The more people can functionally participate in society, the better it is for a community as a whole. This has to do with dignity: people have an intrinsic need to be valued.
Is a City Council in a position to make this happen?
No, at least not directly. Governments are not known for their effectiveness in managing people’s lives and neither should they be doing that. What they can do is to create or foster an environment that will allow commerce to grow. Think about taxation of small businesses. City Council can stifle or stimulate entrepreneurs’ initiatives by the way they garner revenues.
That brings us to fiscal responsibility: what is your take on that?
Well, that the present City Council doesn’t get the basics exercising fiscal prudence. They seem to have trouble understanding that there is just one source of revenue and that is the taxpayer, and that the only other option is reduction in spending. Every single decision at City Council level should be challenged with the question: does it unduly affect the taxpayer?
How do you suggest approaching this issue?
Calgarians deserve a break. They have been pummeled the last decades by house tax increases and user fees resulting in their income going down while City Council kept spending on non-essentials as if there were no limits. So, I think it behooves the next Council to put a moratorium on any planned tax or fees increases for, say, four years.
There is a caveat though. There should be a review of services that are now free. This based on the stark bare fact that nothing is free because something always needs to be paid for by someone. Subsidies need to be reviewed to determine as to what is fair value for residents vis-à-vis their fair contributions.
Do not make any mistake about it: there is no silver bullet and cost cutting measures will virtually affect everyone. That is why we need the very best talent Calgary has to offer.
Are you willing to take a cut in pay if you get elected, if so, by how much?
Absolutely. It is a disgrace that present City Council has shown total disregard to the plight of citizens and have not made any meaningful gestures in reduction of their compensation packages. My suggestion would be to set a target for reduction in municipal spending, say 20 percent, and that salaries are adjusted downward to that level or even below. Council has the obligation to show leadership and demonstrate that they are serious. It is outright absurd to ask city departments to cut costs without setting an example.
Calgarians have now an excellent opportunity to insist that their councillor agrees to a pay cut. Just tell the candidate: I will not be voting for you unless you agree to a reduction of X percent, noting that anything under 20 percent is just window dressing. In addition, make it clear that this reduction is to remain valid for the period they are in office, to close the door to the scenario of voting themselves a raise after taking their seats at City Hall.
Well, thank you very much for the interview. May we come back later with other questions?
Of course! But please do bring a snow shovel next time.