What’s wrong with the City of St. Albert opening a Starbucks franchise inside the Servus Place community recreation facility? After all, it’s a good idea likely to help the still-controversial recreation centre become a financial success.
So City Council should stick to its guns and not back away from this particular deal. Indeed, to do so would be fiscally irresponsible. The suggestion Mayor Nolan Crouse and another member of council should resign over it is risible.
What’s more, a Starbucks franchise at Servus Place would not amount to unfair taxpayer-supported competition for the operator of the Booster Juice franchise in the same facility, or indeed offer any kind of meaningful competition to that business.
Finally, whether you hate the Starbucks plan or not, the campaign of vilification against St. Albert’s city manager is odious. If you don’t like decisions made by the city, take it up with the responsible body – and that would be our city council, which we put there with our votes. If you don’t like what council is doing, there’s a mechanism for dealing with them.
Now, for some reason, opposition to this particular Starbucks deal seems to have really struck a nerve with a group of people in our community who basically disagree with anything council does short of slashing services to reduce taxes. Some folks call them the CAVE People – “Citizens Against Virtually Everything.”
An on-line petition claims council and the administration have lost the trust of St. Albert voters, and therefore that Councillor Cathy Heron and Mayor Crouse, whom the petition author identifies as key supporters, should resign. Worded and distributed as it is, this petition has no legal validity and little political value. Still, if you disagree with me and think it will put some pressure on them, be my guest and sign it. It’s found here. Just remember that what you’re asking them to do is to take $30,000 or more of our tax dollars and throw them out with the coffee grounds because you believe in an ideology that says there’s no place for government in commercial enterprise.
Some of the people associated with this campaign – whom I would guess have some overlap with the members of the St. Albert Taxpayers Association – are folks who post on-line pictures of our new squarish garbage cans not lined up perpendicular to the curb and argue that this means municipal garbage collection system is a failure. Well, I have some issues with the garbage collection plan too, which I’ll save for another day, but I’m not persuaded the tidiness the cans post-pickup is evidence on which any decisions about the efficacy of the system should be based.
Now, some opponents will argue government has no business in business. This in my opinion is a load of hooey, but then – as someone is bound to point out – I make my living working for a public-sector trade union. Here in North America, we’ve let the so-called business community run everything in the name of market fundamentalist purity since Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States 30 years ago. Ask yourself, is our corner of the world a better place as a result of this emphasis on the ideology of privatization? Not likely!
Back in the day, the city might have run a cafeteria in a place like Servus on a break-even basis and we’d all have been fine with it. Nowadays, the right having won that fight, there’s lots of pressure on governments to get involved in “public-private partnerships,” which usually don’t amount to more than a creative way for taxpayers to subsidize private businesses to do work the public sector does better for less.
We have a couple of city councilors who are frequent proponents of P3s – the same councillors, oddly enough, who oppose the deal with Starbucks.
But what is the Starbucks deal but another kind of P3? And if P3s are such a great idea, what’s wrong with this P3?
The private sector provides the marketable product and the city provides some of the start-up cash. Indeed, it’s a much better deal than the usual P3, because it actually has the potential to turn a profit for the city instead of being just an outright taxpayer subsidy like the Anthony Henday highway that will run right past Servus.
One could argue, I suppose, that in a true P3, the business and not taxpayers bears the risk, but everyone knows this is baloney. If the business fails or walks away, the taxpayer is always left holding the bag. Plus, there’s almost no risk in operating a Starbucks at this location, which is no doubt why city council liked the deal in the first place.
You don’t think the city should run a business? Fine, that’s an ideological position, which all of us don’t accept. If that’s the way you feel, deal with it at the next election.
Then there’s the matter of competition with Booster Juice. Please! If Starbucks and Booster juice have anything in common, it’s only that they both sell drinkable liquids. What’s the difference between competition from a private coffee shop operator (with which the petitioners would presumably have no problem) and a P3 coffee shop (which outrages them)? None from our perspective as taxpayers.
Was the Booster Juice franchise operator promised there would be no other competition in the facility? If he was, then he has cause for complaint.
But, you may argue, his taxes are supporting his competition. True, I suppose, but his taxes are also supporting a favourable place for him to do business, and council is doing everything it can to drive business his way. Sorry, but the Booster Juice complaint is a red herring.
Finally, there are the attacks on the city manager, who nowadays is not only being vilified for decisions made by several past councils, but for the recession and the downloading of provincial services on municipalities by Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government – which I’ll bet every person screaming for his head voted for.
This is way out of line, and the people responsible should take their complaints to the actual decision makers.
Yes, taxes are too high in this community. Reasons include decisions made by past city councils, but also the lack of industry here, which also has obvious benefits, and the ridiculous tax structure of the Capital Region, blame for which belongs squarely with our Conservative provincial government.
Solutions include being thoughtful about what services the municipality offers, not wholesale privatization, which will cost us more, not less. They sure as heck don’t include cutting municipal services right and left. Maybe we should also think about replacing the provincial government with a party closer to the centre of the political spectrum.
These are not grounds, as it were, for killing the Starbucks deal.