Calgary’s new city council to face existing challenges with new perspectives

Calgary City Hall fall 2017. Dani Lantela / Global News

Monday’s election resulted in historic turnover at Calgary city council with 11 new members elected.

A majority of voices around the horseshoe at city hall bring new perspectives to roles that have been around for 137 years.

But the left-right ideological mix doesn’t appear to have changed from the previous term, according to one political scientist.

“It’s kind of a wash,” Jack Lucas, associate professor of political science, said Tuesday. “You see a shift to the left in Ward 11: Kourtney Branigan replacing Jeromy Farkas. You see a shift to the right in Ward 7 (Terry Wong replacing Druh Farrell). And so overall, it’s a fairly similar complexion.”

Lucas noted that as representatives for their respective wards, councillors-elect will have different priorities.

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“That’s going to shape the way council plays out, and mayor-elect (Jyoti) Gondek will be trying to understand that and get to know her own new colleagues and build coalitions of support,” he said.

“(She will try) to select items from her policy agenda to move forward as well that are likely to be supported by her colleagues.”

Staying true to the Greater Downtown Plan is job number one for Gondek.

“To make sure that we are filling those office vacancies, that we are making decisions that create a vibrant downtown that’s alive at all hours,” the mayor-elect said Tuesday. “It’s incredibly important to send that signal that we are recovering because, I mean, from a very basic level, that’s where we generate a lot of our property taxes.

“But it also makes us attractive to bringing and retaining talent to our city.”

Voicing ward concerns

Jasmine Mian, who replaces Gondek in Ward 3, recognized there’s work to be done by city council, following the “one-two punch of the economic downturn and the pandemic.” But she’s also focused on addressing the north-central ward’s needs.

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“There’s quite a large service and infrastructure deficit there,” Mian said Wednesday. “If you look at things like the CTrain and recreation opportunities, there are even smaller things like dog parks, considerably less than other wards.”

Click to play video: 'Calls grow for incumbent Ward 4 Calgary Coun. Sean Chu to resign'
Calls grow for incumbent Ward 4 Calgary Coun. Sean Chu to resign

Ward 1 councillor-elect Sonya Sharp said the top issues from doorknocking she intends to address are communication with residents, “smart spending” and residential road safety.

“I even witnessed it myself,” Sharp said Tuesday. “We have some dangerous intersections. We have some roads that need some attention to and that needs to happen.”

Ward 10 councillor-elect Andre Chabot, who returns to council after an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2017, said speeding on residential roads was an issue he heard from east Calgary residents.

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“There are other infrastructure issues like aging equipment and playgrounds, underutilized green spaces, even some of the main infrastructure is failing,” Chabot said Wednesday. “There’s been a lot of overland drainage issues from flooding every year.”

Richard Pootmans, former Ward 6 councillor who returns to the seat, had a friend tell him during the campaign that the interconnected and multi-factored nature of different aspects of the city means there are no simple fixes.

“If the economy is doing poorly, then you’re going to have certain types of public safety issues. If it’s doing well, you can have another different type of public safety issues. And similarly, if the police force and emergency responders generally are not being properly compensated and being properly respected within the organization, that creates all sorts of other issues for the residents of every ward,” Pootmans said Tuesday.

“For me, the lesson was that there is no absolute priority. It’s how it all interrelates, so it’s a thousand little priorities combining to the final priorities of a successful community.”

15 different voices

Gondek said she was very excited to see the diversity of expertise, experience and passion in the new city council.

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“I think the executive committee of council that we will have for the first time is going to be incredibly important to share the work and make sure that everyone has the opportunity to play a part in the team and share in the recognition for work well done,” she added.

Click to play video: 'First female Calgary mayor elicits excitement'
First female Calgary mayor elicits excitement

Mian said, like in a workplace, council wouldn’t benefit if everyone was the same.

“If you really think about this as a workplace, as a team of 15 people who are going to try and help us navigate some of the big challenges, we want people that have these different perspectives, different life experiences,” the Ward 3 councillor-elect said.

Chabot said he’s been able to have post-election conversations with a handful of his new colleagues, offering his previous experience to anyone who asks.

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“Ultimately, I want to see us move forward as a team and hoping to establish those relationships early on so that we can move forward collaboratively as a group,” he said.

Sharp hopes to have a diversity of voices beyond city council involved in decision-making, calling the election Step 1 to reach that goal.

“Step 2 is now looking at some opportunities for improvement with leadership, with culture really and making sure you’re bringing the right people to the table to make these decisions,” the Ward 1 councillor-elect said.

“That’s just not talking about the people in the room — that’s talking about people outside of city hall.”

Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, who was re-elected for a fourth term on Monday, said he’s spoken with many of the councillors-elect leading up to election day and called the group a “really inspiring group of leaders.”

“I’m very gratified to be part of this exciting group of leaders facing some challenging times for Calgary but also some very optimistic and hopeful times,” Carra said Tuesday.


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