On April 23 2012, Ric McIver was elected as MLA to represent the Provincial riding of Calgary-Hays, and on May 8, he was appointed by Premiere Alison Redford to the position of Transportation Minister. As Transportation Minister, he will be in charge of the direction and decision-making involved in the southwest portion of the Calgary ring road. His well-known stance of supporting a road through the Weaselhead along 37th street SW has caused concern for some Calgary residents who are intent on preserving that natural area. However, this stance is not quite as straight-forward as it might seem.
Despite being a rookie MLA, Ric McIver has a great deal of experience with the ring road issue, having served as Calgary’s Ward 12 Alderman for 9 years. In that time, he was active in the City’s role in establishing a road in the southwest part of the city.
City Council and the 2002 Transportation, Transit and Parking Committee
Even before his election to Council, Ric McIver was already addressing the Southwest Ring Road issue. On October 13 1998, the Calgary Herald reports that in his first run at the Ward 12 Council seat, McIver stated “If the province cannot or will not provide funding, we should build (the Southwest Ring Road) anyway now… we need to get together a private-public partnership to build it as a toll road on a 20- to 25-year payback basis.”
Soon after taking office on his second run for Alderman in 2001, McIver joined the Transportation, Transit and Parking Committee, and continued his engagement with the Ring Road project.
On July 16 2002, McIver proposed a motion to the committee to restrict the type of road development that the City could engage in with the Tsuu T’ina. Specifically, he proposed that the City of Calgary be prevented from building any roads on land not owned by the City. The motion passed the committee by a vote of 4 to 3, though it was criticized at the time. Mayor Bronconier, among others, disliked the motion as it placed restrictions on the City that limited its ability to negotiate for what was seen as the best route possible for the road.
Because McIver’s committee motion was incompatible with the Tsuu T’ina negotiations at the time, it was portrayed in the media as being a motion to stop any road through Nation lands, and to promote a solution within City boundaries, such as a 37th street SW road. While somewhat true, this isn’t precisely the case.
In a personal correspondence after the vote, McIver clarified the intent of the motion. He felt that spending tax dollars to build a road that was built on someone else’s property, outside of the control of the City, would not be in Calgary’s best interest. In 1999, then Tsuu T’ina Chief Roy Whitney stated that the Nation would seek a fee-per-vehicle toll on any road through the Nation land, utilising a ‘silent’ toll system. This means that cars using the road would be tallied, and then either the City of Calgary or the Province of Alberta would pay the Tsuu T’ina based on the number of vehicles using the road. Then-Premiere Ralph Klein stated that “…we’re not opposed to examining tolls, including a road through the Tsuu T’ina reserve.” While the MOU did not specify who would pay to build the road, there were public concerns that the City and Province would be on the hook for the construction costs.
McIver felt that any city investments would be better off on land that was owned by the city. He says “The motion coming forward to Council on Monday does not actually firm up any route for the future 37 Street/Sarcee Trail extension. It does, however, take off the table the route across Tsuu Tina land ONLY IF PAID FOR BY CALGARY… What it does do is establish the principal that Calgary tax dollars for roads should only be spent in Calgary. In the same way that we would not expect our neighbours to pay for our roads, we cannot be expected to pay for theirs.”
The motion the McIver introduced, however, did not stop the City from pursuing a road that was located on land purchased from the reserve, which is what the 2009 and 2013 agreements were later founded on. He goes on to say “…this motion would allow for a Calgary built road on what is now Tsuu Tina land – ONLY AFTER A LAND SWAP OR PURCHASE/SALE IS COMPLETED.” (Emphasis his)
2009 Ring Road Agreement Reaction
In June of 2009, the Tsuu T’ina rejected the proposed Provincial agreement to sell land for a ring road. At the time, both Mayor Bronconier and the Province declared the Tsuu T’ina agreement to be dead, and walked away from further negotiations. However, there were a few calls from within the City and the Province to keep the negotiations alive; the first elected official to publicly state a desire to see negotiations resume was Ric McIver.
On July 18 2009, less than 3 weeks after the failed Tsuu T’ina vote, Ric McIver stated “Sooner or later, the province is going to be back talking to the Tsuu T’ina and the city of Calgary would be better off with that. There’s nowhere else between 37 St. and Bragg Creek to put it and the fact is not going to change – the best route is through Tsuu T’ina land.”
“Cooler heads have to prevail. You don’t have to be a Ph.D in geography to know anything we would call a ring road will have to go through Tsuu T’ina land some day. Widening 37 St. to ring road status will cut a huge swath through an established community.”
It has been noted that there are two different problems that needs solving in the southwest: One is facilitating movement of people seeking to bypass the city to reach other parts of the city and province, the other is providing a commuting solution for people traveling downtown. McIver seems to take the position that while the Province should still seek to build a true bypass highway through Tsuu T’ina lands, the city should also proceed with a city connector road within city limits. Thus at the same time as he was urging continued negotiation between the Province and the Tsuu T’ina, McIver also stated that he supports a City-built, commuter focused connector road along 37th street SW over (or under) the Weaselhead and through Lakeview.
2010 Mayoral Campaign
In 2010, Ric McIver chose not to run for a 4th term as alderman, and instead chose to run for Mayor. Part of his ‘vision’ included short statements on the Southwest Calgary Ring Road, but little detail. He says “We will work with our partners in the Alberta government to complete the ring road and, yes, that will include the southwest portion.”
(Skip to 3:01 to get to comments on the Southwest Calgary Ring Road)
The communications director for his mayoral campaign, Sam Armstrong, said: “McIver is committed to building the southwest portion of the ring road. McIver believes that it is time to move on from negotiations with the Tsuu T’ina reserve, and if elected, he will urge the province to start building as soon as possible. If elected, he will have a meeting with everyone affected by the ring road and work out the issue. McIver doesn’t want to demolish homes, but he does want build the ring road in the community of Lakeview, so instead of building an eight lane highway, he wants to turn the southwest portion of the ring road into an access road.”
This statement seems to be contradictory, both to itself (The road cannot possibly be both a Provincial freeway and an ‘access road’), and to what we know about McIver’s previous stance on the issue. Though the statement does advocate for a ring road through Lakeview and the Weaselhead, it would appear that McIver or his staff is actually talking about his long-held position on a city connector road, but calling it a Provincial ring road. In running for mayor, he would have been responsible for City-focused solutions, not Provincial ones, and it seems that at this time McIver was still proposing that the City should work towards having a connector road built via 37th street, rather than a full-fledged freeway.
Ric McIver finished in second place to Naheed Nenshi in the 2010 mayoral race.
Minister of Transportation
After running a successful campaign to become MLA for the riding of Calgary-Hays, Ric McIver was appointed as Transportation Minister, replacing the recently defeated Ray Danyluck who previously held the position. As the Transportation Minister, McIver would essentially head up the Provincial side of negotiations on the Southwest Calgary Ring Road project. A few weeks after the appointment, on May 24 2012, McIver stated “I’m hearing from some people that that’s a priority, It’s one for me… I’ve had some briefings (about the negotiations) but I want to make sure I’m fully up to date about where the status of any talks have been up until now. Then we’ll make an appointment,” indicating that he would meet with the Tsuu T’ina after the spring sitting of the legislature.
Ric McIver has been very clear that building a road through the Weaselhead is something that the City of Calgary should pursue as a commuter solution. While that is a concern to southwest residents who would be impacted by such a project, McIver is no longer involved in city-level politics. Given his insistence that any true ring road-standard Provincial highway would need to be built through the Tsuu T’ina, and given that his mandate is to build just such a road, his stance seems to be consistent with negotiating with the Nation in good faith. Of course, what would happen should current negotiations prove unsuccessful, as always, remains unknown.