“A city is no different than a business: it has an annual operating budget of $2 billion, 12 thousand employees and 1 million customers.” His vision is as unique as his approach: let Calgarians determine priorities by sharing their concerns, streamline processes, eliminate waste, and focus on the issues that are important to “customers” – the people of Calgary.
This is flawed on a dozen different levels, but it ultimately comes back to one fundamental point: Government does not have the same objectives as Business.
Businesses exist to make money - period. In truth, most businesses are run by people who try their best to do so "well" - with some sense of moral and ethical balance - but ultimately no business exists without making money from its customers. Although challenging, the single minded goal of making money is quite different from the role government must play.
Governments on the other hand are held to account for a much more complex set of obligations than any business. Not only must government (even civic) balance its books between revenues and expenditures, but it carries the burden of paying for a whole host of services that we depend upon - from police and fire to water and sewage treatment. Complicating the picture, the city also winds up having to deal with all of the problems that most of us don't know what to do with - the homeless, effects of poverty, insane growth and the stresses placed on infrastructure by that growth. Government is also obliged to balance the interests of citizens with the demands of business. (If one does not remember incidents such as The Love Canal in the states, or Lynnwood Ridge in Calgary, it is easy to lose track of the need for government to provide a regulatory environment for businesses as well to keep their activities balanced with the collective interests of the citizens...such as not having their homes built on toxic waste sites)
The "balance sheet" for government is complex and multi-faceted. The simplistic view that there is an equivalence with government demonstrates a lack of understanding of topics that cannot readily be understood in terms of finances, and people can seldom be understood in terms of money or numbers.