Photo: Farkhod Fayzullaev

The glaring gap in our city hall coverage

An exclusive interview reveals all!

On weekends, The Sprawl sends out an email newsletter called Saturday Morning Sprawl. We post some of these here so they can be shared more widely. Subscribe here so you don't miss a dispatch! Here is this week's edition.

I want to start with some good news this morning. So far in June, 63 people have signed up to support our independent journalism!

It makes me wonder—could we hit 100 by the end of the month?

I think it's doable. I'm hustling to boost those numbers but need your help to get there!

In other news, there is a certain question I have been waiting to be asked over the past while. But no one has asked it.

With this in mind, I am excited to bring you an exclusive interview this weekend with one of Canada's pre-eminent journalists. Or maybe just Calgary's.

If we are going to get technical about it, this is a conversation with the pre-eminent journalist of my block. That he is the only journalist living there is beside the point.

This interview really happened. In my head. Enjoy!

jeremy klaszus: First of all, thanks for making time for this conversation today. I know you’ve got lots on the go.

JEREMY KLASZUS: It's no trouble. I’m glad to be here.

j.k.: Earlier this month you put out a Sprawlcast episode on The Real Costs of Calgary’s New BMO Centre. This follows an episode you did last October on The Real Costs of Calgary’s New Arena Deal.

J.K.: Mmmhmm.

j.k.: Why did you decide to do these stories?

J.K.: These projects involve over a billion dollars from city hall. In one deal, council unanimously committed over $850 million to an NHL arena with no public debate, and won’t fully recoup $316 million from the Calgary Flames until around 2060. Meanwhile, city hall is saying it contributed $167 million to the Calgary Stampede’s new convention centre when in reality the city contributed double that, and is hoping to recoup these costs by 2047. Basically it’s a lot of municipal funds that city hall won’t get back for decades.

j.k.: So it would be fair to say that you think big-ticket capital projects like this deserve close scrutiny?

J.K.: I do, yes.

j.k.: And that this should apply to all such projects?

J.K.: I think so, yes.

j.k.: And that when we’re talking about hundreds of millions or even billions of public dollars, this scrutiny is in order regardless of the project?

J.K. Yes.

j.k.: Okay. So here is the question I really want to ask. If you believe that this journalistic diligence should be applied to all major capital projects—where is your Sprawlcast on the real costs of the Green Line?

J.K.: Sorry, can you repeat that? You cut out for a second there.

j.k.: The Green Line. Billions of dollars. The largest capital project of them all, the biggest in Calgary’s history—and set to go over budget by who knows how much. Where’s your in-depth Sprawlcast on that?

J.K. Well, you see, I have things simmering in various pots.

j.k.: Pots?

J.K. Pots. Not literal pots. It’s a metaphor.

j.k.: Okay… pots. Tell me about these pots.

J.K.: I have a bunch of Sprawlcasts on the go at once. I pick away at stories. I toss in ingredients here and there. An interview, a report, a question. They simmer “on the backburner,” as they say. Then, at a certain point, it’s grab and go time, which means I grab a pot, crank up the heat, toss in the final elements—and presto! A Sprawlcast is served.

j.k.: How do you know which pot is ready to grab and go?

J.K.: Often a newsy hook will present itself. Sometimes it’s a big announcement, like the opening of the BMO Centre. Or in October, when the city announced that the arena deal had been finalized—it was grab and go time for that episode. I find it all comes together quite quickly when the time is right.

The big announcement of the day is almost never the story. The announcement is an excuse to bring deeper reporting to the fore.

j.k.: Okay that all sounds very impressive, but you’re evading my question. It’s been three years since you did a Sprawlcast on the Green Line.

J.K.: That long now?

j.k.: Yes. And it raises the question of why you so closely examine some capital projects and not others.

J.K.: Well, one of my pots is, in fact, called “the real costs of the Green Line.” The problem is we don’t know the current price tag of the Green Line.

j.k.: Isn’t that specifically your job: to find out?

J.K.: Sure. But we were supposed to learn more this month in some detail. City admin previously said an updated Green Line business case, complete with new cost numbers, would be coming to council by the end of June.

j.k.: And?

J.K.: Council’s executive committee got an update on the Green Line last week, and then council got an update on Tuesday.

j.k. So now you have what you need, yes? “Grab and go” time, as you say?

J.K.: I wish! But no. Council met in camera.

j.k. With the camera on them?

J.K.: In camera is Latin. It means “in chamber.” Weirdly, in camera means the cameras were off.

j.k.: So they met behind closed doors.

J.K.: Yes. Apparently the province’s threat of “no additional funding” for the Green Line has delayed the big public update. I’m told it’ll now happen in July, before council goes on its August summer break.

j.k: So now what?

J.K.: Next Tuesday council will be discussing water infrastructure—another pot I’m attending to—in the context of mid-cycle budget adjustments for 2024 and beyond. And on top of that, council is slated to get an update on the city’s financial capacity, which ties into all of the subjects we’ve been discussing here.

j.k.: That sounds important. What do you expect to learn from that?

J.K.: Not much, to be honest. The item is listed on the council agenda as confidential. So we’ll see. Or not.

j.k.: Confidential? That strikes me as odd. Don’t the citizens of Calgary have a right to know the financial capacity of their municipal government, especially given these big projects and the water main break?

J.K.: You would think. We’ll see.

Apparently the province’s threat of no additional funding” for the Green Line has delayed the big public update.

j.k.: It seems to me that Calgary is fortunate to have you digging into these things, given the state of journalism today. How can The Sprawl possibly persist?

J.K.: An excellent question! It can only happen if readers and listeners support our independent Calgary journalism. It only takes a moment to sign up.

j.k.: It sounds like you've made that pitch before.

J.K.: Once or twice. So I try and have some fun with it now.

j.k.: Well, thanks for your time today Jeremy, I really appreciate it. Before you go, I have to ask. Blanket rezoning. Yes or no?

J.K.: Sorry, what?

j.k.: What’s your stance on blanket rezoning? For or against?

J.K.: Uh…

j.k.: Don’t try stonewalling me. Yes or no. It’s a simple question.

J.K.: Are you serious? I’m a journalist. You know that. My job is to report on these issues, not—

j.k.: Blanket rezoning, for or against?

J.K.: …

j.k.: Also is it true that you are mulling a mayoral run for 2025, with a platform that consists solely of banning leaf blowers and pedal pubs—


Well, there you have it! My takeaway from this most insightful conversation is just how important it is to support local journalism.

Shenanigans aside—if you agree, sign up today as a Sprawl member. I'd love it if we could hit 100 new members by the end of the month! We've got 63 so far this month... and only have 37 to go to hit that target.

Thanks as always for reading and have a lovely weekend!

Jeremy Klaszus is editor-in-chief of The Sprawl.

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