Calgary-Buffalo

High population density brings festivals, businesses and hot-button politics.

By albertaviews

Calgary-Buffalo is as urban as it gets in Alberta—of the province’s 87 constituencies, Calgary-Buffalo has the highest population density and the smallest geographical size. The office towers in the downtown core, home to the corporate headquarters of many oil and gas companies, have been part of the constituency since 1971. Same too for the Beltline district, where rental apartments and new condo buildings dominate. But the outer boundaries have changed several times. For the 2019 election, some of Calgary’s oldest residential neighbourhoods in Inglewood, Ramsay and Mission were included in the constituency, and NDP MLA Joe Ceci says his riding now has “a great urban density that is still people-oriented.”

Many of Calgary’s biggest festivals happen here, including Lilac Festival, Sled Island and the Calgary Folk Festival. Density and popularity are not without challenges, though. In some inner-city neighbourhoods, gentrification pressures can make it harder to “retain a human touch with all the redevelopment,” Ceci says, adding that not all residents feel a long-term connection to the area. “If people stay for a longer period of time, they get to be better connected to that area and to their community associations and businesses, and they support things locally…. It’s probably more of a Beltline issue, where you see a lot of buildings going up and a lot of people moving around.”

Since the energy industry downturn in 2014, downtown office vacancy rates have soared well over 20 per cent, and the value of non-residential buildings in the core has dropped by over $12-billion in just three years. Empty office towers have become one of the main symbols of the persistent downturn in oil and gas prices. It’s somewhat ironic, then, that while the UCP won the 2019 provincial election—with promises of bringing back the boom times in oil and gas—in Calgary-Buffalo, the corporate heart of the industry, an NDP candidate defeated UCP candidate Tom Olsen. But then again that may not be surprising. While Olsen was subsequently given a partisan job as executive director of Alberta’s “War Room,” with a head office downtown from which to lead the “fight” against “foreign-funded” enemies of Alberta’s oil and gas, other business leaders have advocated for a more nuanced strategy. For instance, Sandip Lalli, president and CEO of Calgary’s Chamber of Commerce (which is also based downtown), has said that what’s most needed now in Alberta and in Canada is a vision that allows us to both develop natural resources and at the same time fight climate change. “Anger and loud voices are simply not in the best interests of our citizens,” says Lalli.

Along with economic challenges, a contentious issue in Calgary-Buffalo has been the supervised drug consumption site at the Sheldon M. Chumir health centre. Ceci is supportive of it, though he says the city should have more such sites in different quadrants. The opioid crisis “is probably the greatest public health crisis of our time,” he says. “The sites—not only here at the Chumir but throughout Alberta—have a perfect record of saving lives. If we remove these services, people will die…. I’m concerned that [Premier Kenney] will make a decision based on his own ideological views and won’t make a decision based on good public health policy.”

“Jobs are really important,” says Ceci, but in the inner city “there’s a wide range of people and they have different priorities. I have to represent them all.”

 

PROFILE

Population (2016): 49,900 (average Alberta riding: 46,803)

Constituency first contested: 1971

MLA: Joe Ceci (NDP, 2015–)

Median household income: $72,561 (Alberta: $93,931)

Low-income population: 16.1% (Alberta: 9.3%)

Percentage of population that is renting: 66.6% (Alberta: 27%)

Top three industries for employment: professional, scientific and tech services; accommodation and food services; mining, quarrying, oil and gas extraction

Population that took public transit, walked or bicycled to work: 55.8% (Alberta: 15.7%)

Postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree: 79.5% (Alberta: 63.9%)

Parties that have held Calgary-Buffalo: Alberta Reform Movement; Liberals; NDP; Progressive Conservatives

Voter turnout (2019): 60.6% (Alberta: 67.5%)

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