Calgary city council, predictably, cries foul over any suggestion that the city needs to increase the snow removal budget.
"Citizens will revolt! It'll mean increasing their taxes by a hundred dollars or more per year!", they cry. Anyone who has lived here for more than 2 Winters realizes the game that council is playing, of course: It's called "pray for a chinook".
If Calgary gets 10 cm of snow in a 24 hour period, you just need to plow and sand the major routes, and cross your fingers. 250 vehicular accidents will take place in those 24 hours, but think of the thousands of vehicles that WON'T be in collisions. Then you sit tight, and wait for Mother Nature to cast that beautiful arch in the West, and She'll take care of the rest.
Elections are in October, so snow removal rarely comes up. After all, it's been 6 months since the last time the roads needed to be plowed. And as long as those chinooks keep coming, people will be happy, roads will be clear, and you'll be acclaimed for doing a great job, and keeping tax rates down.
The people involved in those 100, 150, 200, 250, or more accidents EVERY. SINGLE. SNOWFALL. would disagree. They'd tell you that the failure of the city to plow and sand any but the most major of the routes led to their accident. The minivan full of Timbit hockey players that bounced off that light standard because the feeder road still hadn't been plowed, 4 days later, isn't all that concerned with the tax rate.
Nation, I know we hate to compare ourselves with Edmonton... but, as the only major centre near us, and facing a similar climate, we're going to take a look and compare snow removal in the 2 cities.
Size within city limits: 726 km2.
Average annual snowfall: 135 cm
Annual Snow Removal Budget: 21.1 Million
Size within city limits: 684 km2
Average annual snowfall: 123 cm
Annual Snow Removal Budget: 40 Million
So, let's review: Edmonton is smaller, by a shade over 40 square kilometres. They get 12 centimetres less of snow every year. They (admittedly) don't get chinooks. And they spend 18.9 MILLION dollars more per year on snow removal than Calgary.
"We don't have the money!", cries city council.
"Find something to cut - do your jobs, and keep your citizens safe!", respond Joe and Jane Calgarian.
Playing "pray for a chinook" might be fun, but it's not good public policy. Chinooks or not, we live in a snow-prone area in one of the northernmost major cities on the planet - only London, Berlin, St. Petersburg and Moscow are further North with larger populations than Calgary.
Calgarians are a funny bunch. They revolt against even the whiff of unfairness in their federal government, occasionally make noise about the provincial government, and all but ignore their city council for the first 3 years of the new council's term. Mis-spending, lack of services, you name it, and Calgarians will just assume it's some other level of government's fault for not giving their mayor enough to work with.
I'm told I have to clear my sidewalk within 24 hours of a snowfall, or risk a $155 ticket. The reason I'm given for this commandment is "public safety". The irony should not be lost on anyone.
The bottom line is, people get hurt and die every snowfall in this city, because our council lacks the political courage to do something unpopular (raising taxes or cutting programs to allow an increase in the snow removal budget) in order to save lives and suffering.
Calgarians should hold their elected officials accountable for this lack of courage. Mail your $155 ticket in to city hall with a note attached to it:
Lest we forget (and we usually do): THEY answer to US, not the other way around.