Pre-pandemic, pancake breakfasts were a common event for Calgarians of all ages to attend during the Calgary Stampede.
It’s also a common time for politicians to descend on the city to host things like the premier’s breakfast.
But this year is a little different with municipal candidates on the campaign trail.
Previously, the election period didn’t begin until September. This year, it started in January.
On Wednesday, Calgary councillors Jeff Davison, Jeromy Farkas and Jyoti Gondek attended Stampede-themed events, looking to connect with Calgarians they serve as councillor and hope to serve as mayor.
It was also an opportunity to serve up breakfast outside Southcentre Mall.
“Southcenter’s stampede breakfast is always the biggest event in my ward and it’s just really nice to be able to catch up with folks and to see people again,” Farkas told Global News.
“I know that it’s been a real long last 18 months or so. It’s just really nice to be out and about and flipping flapjacks.”
Jeff Davison was another council member at Southcentre Mall for the Calgary Stampede caravan breakfast.
“I’m talking to as many people as I can, hearing the Calgary story,” Davison said. “What do people want to see more of in their city? What do people want to see less of?”
Davison and Farkas fielded questions about specific issues like roads, schools and taxes. Others in attendance plainly asked why they should vote for that candidate.
Dalhousie retirees Ed and Angie Donais have come out to many pancake breakfasts over the years but this was the first time they’d chatted with a councillor or candidate.
“I can’t say that we have, have we?” Ed asked Angie, receiving a shake of her head. “No, we haven’t.”
Colleen Sanderson, mother of one, said she has more questions for all of the candidates.
“I’d like to know what the platforms are,” Sanderson said.
“I’d like to be a little better informed in how they’re going to bring us out of this pandemic and how they’re going to get the city rebuilt as we move on.”
Farkas admitted that with province-wide restrictions released only two weeks ago, the October election is “probably not on most people’s radar.”
“Which means that, as candidates, we’ve got to work really hard to get the message out,” the Ward 11 councillor said. “For me, it’s a dual role representing this neighborhood and city council. But also it being an event, an opportunity to be able to present my vision as a candidate.”
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt called the 10-day run of Stampede an “opportune time” for politicians and candidates.
“In a regular year, it’s important for politicians,” Bratt told Global News. “This is a great opportunity of meeting a lot of different constituents in a very short period of time, whether you’re flipping pancakes or handing out a beef on a bun or walking around and talking to folks.
“It provides two or three minutes of face time over and over again, with either elected officials or candidates.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who will be retiring from municipal politics after 11 years in office, agreed with the value of attending Stampede events.
“It’s actually incredibly important for candidates because it’s an opportunity to talk to so many people,” Nenshi said. “Way fewer people than normal (this year), but still talk to a lot of people.”
Wednesday’s pancake breakfast marked Nenshi’s final Stampede caravan breakfast as mayor.
He said expectations were tentative on how Calgarians would embrace Stampede breakfasts as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“What we’ve been learning over the course of the Stampede is people are thinking about their own personal level of comfort, as we have well over half of people with their second doses,” Nenshi said.
“People are finding at outdoor events like this — they’re feeling OK.”
Campaigning with safety concerns
Not all candidates are hitting the Stampede breakfast circuit, including Jyoti Gondek..
“Because I’m running in an election, I have to think about my campaign team,” Gondek said Wednesday. “After a lot of lengthy conversations with my team, I made a decision to try to limit the number of Stampede events I go to.
“I will not be going onto Stampede Park, just out of concern for the members of my team who can’t be vaccinated.
“But for these type of community-based functions, I thought it was important to be here.”
On Wednesday, Gondek visited Silvera for Seniors in Shouldice, where they were having a Stampede-themed lunch. Being at the Stampede lunch with seniors helped her gain some insights into the lives of elderly Calgarians, especially during the pandemic.
“If there’s takeaways from this for me it’s to make sure that we are not ignoring our senior population, that we are making sure the facilities that we are stewarding as a local government are in the best shape they can be, and just to really understand what our role is in taking care of an aging population and the facilities that serve them.”
Mayoral candidate Jan Damery said her campaign calendar has been ramping up as the week continues.
“We’ve been stepping into it sort of gingerly with just a lot of smaller groups, smaller events outdoors,” Damery said.
“And as I had thought would happen over the weekend, this is exactly what’s happening: people are getting more comfortable. And so, in fact, I’ve actually got a more jam-packed schedule as we finish out the Stampede week.”
Like other candidates, the second week of July has long been circled on the calendar for mayoral candidate Brad Field.
“After the last 16 months of being locked down and doing most of these type of meetings virtually, it’s nice to be able to get out in front of (voters) because at that point, you can you can see their face, you can see their eyes, you can read their smile,” Field said.
“Just being able to have that one-on-one conversation, make that personal connection.”
Joined by a handful of volunteers on Wednesday, Davison said he’s had to balance getting out and meeting Calgarians while also preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“Obviously when you’re campaigning, you want to get out, you want to do those big events, see Calgarians and talk with them,” the Ward 6 councillor said. “This year was a little different and I think that includes this campaigning.
“We have to think about our own precautions and how we get our teams out and engage with the public. But we’re doing that with safety in mind.”
At the events observed by Global News, both Gondek and Farkas only had one campaign team member with them and donned masks when indoors.
“As someone in a leadership position, I’ve been trying to demonstrate to people who wish to wear a mask that it’s OK and to demonstrate to people who are uneasy about getting into crowds right away that that’s OK, too,” the Ward 3 councillor said.
“Sometimes you have to show leadership by the example that you set.”
With 20 mayoral candidates registered with Elections Calgary in this fall’s non-partisan election, standing out in the field will be a challenge.
“If a voter goes to the booth and goes, ‘Yeah, I recognize that name, we had a cup of coffee together at the Stampede,’ or, ‘He served me a hot dog,’ that may be enough to put you over,” Bratt said.
“Politics is the human touch, right?”
Calgarians go to the polls on Oct. 18.
–with files from Adam MacVicar, Global News