Early into her first term as Calgary’s mayor, Jyoti Gondek is off to a bit of a rocky start when it comes to her approval rating, according to a new poll.
At present, the first female mayor sits at 38 per cent approval, compared with 53 per cent disapproval. Another nine per cent of those surveyed were unsure about her performance so far.
The poll, conducted by ThinkHQ Public Affarirs Inc., surveyed 1,101 Calgarians from March 14 to March 21. Those involved were from a random stratified sample of panellists and the company said the margin of error is about 2.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
“Five months into her first term and it’s clear that Mayor Gondek is having a rough ride,” said Think HQ president Marc Henry.
“A Calgary mayor below 40 per cent approval? That’s happened only once in the past two decades and it’s particularly unusual this early on.”
Henry said it’s typical for newly elected politicians to get a little leeway as they’re new to their roles and are backed by the supporters who voted them in.
He pointed to the last two Calgary mayors — Naheed Nenshi and Dave Bronconnier, respectively — having a high rating at the start, along with provincial leaders such as Jason Kenney and Rachel Notley.
“Generally, the public wants a new leader to be successful,” Henry said.
“They are the ‘new shiny object’ and haven’t really had enough time to do unpopular things, so they get strong ratings early on. Mayor Gondek’s ratings are definitely an anomaly.”
The company said that by comparison, Nenshi finished his first year in office with approval in the mid-80s, while Bronconnier’s first few months in office yielded approval in the mid-70s.
Interestingly, the poll found those under 35 said they approved of Gondek by a margin of 45 per cent compared with 42 per cent disapproval. However, those 55 years old and up had the sharpest disapproval at 62 per cent, compared with only 31 per cent approval.
The performance of individual councillors shows an opposite trend to the mayor’s situation.
Forty-five per cent of those asked said they approved how their councillor is executing their duties while 31 per cent disapproved and 24 per cent said they were unsure.
When it comes to Calgary city council as a whole, 37 per cent approved of the performance of the new swath of councillors and mayor, while 48 per cent disapproved and 15 per cent were unsure.
Gondek responds to poll
Calgary’s mayor said the poll is a “data point at a very specific point in time,” in which Calgarians have experienced more than two years of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gondek said she believes people are frustrated with the economy and its uncertainty, and are expressing that disappointment toward their elected officials.
“If I ran to be popular, I would have done nothing but sit quietly my first few months,” Gondek told reporters. “People elected us to make difficult decisions in a very difficult time and to bring them out of the troubled times that they’re in; there’s no one, not a single person that can do that in 100 days.”
Gondek said she and her council can achieve those goals in their four-year term, but said “it will take time.”
The mayor said she understood the comparison to her predecessors’ early days in office, but said the times as well as the environment in which this council is serving are different.
“Would I be happier if we weren’t in a pandemic and the economy was great? Yeah, I’d be much happier, that’d be fantastic,” Gondek said. “(Those aren’t) the circumstances I ran under. The situation we have as a council is incredibly difficult and we are committed to be here for Calgarians.”
‘Very unusual’: political scientist
Political scientist at Mount Royal University, Duane Bratt told Global News the no “honeymoon” phase for Gondek is very unusual but that it reflects the challenges the mayor came into right out of the get-go.
Some could even argue it was the perfect storm at the beginning of her tenure. With a global pandemic, ruffled feathers with Alberta’s premier, the quashing of the Calgary Flames arena deal and the controversy surrounding city councillor Sean Chu — Bratt said it’s been a compilation of a bunch of issues coming together and all at once.
“I think we’re in a very polarized environment now and this reflects it,” Bratt explained.
“The demonstrations in Calgary, the ongoing demonstrations, and her inability to deal with those — for good reasons, it’s not her responsibility — but it’s at her plate. The collapse of the arena deal, right? Did she cause it? No. Were there issues in the communication and strategy when she got the notification? Okay…
“But she’s the one where the bomb landed and that’s why she’s taking the heat from that.”
He also pointed out how she ran on various election promises, but one that wasn’t in the forefront was the climate change emergency — which she acted on almost immediately after getting into office. Though the city has limited powers on how it can act on the issue, Bratt said she put Calgary on the map for it, but in return, it allowed groups “that don’t like her, to come out of the woodwork.”
The reason why the Mount Royal professor believes this poll has significance is due to the fact most mayors start off with “a lot of political capital” which diminishes over time.
“If you’re not starting with a lot of political capital, that hurts you, especially when you’re dealing with other counsellors,” he said.
“You only have one vote on council, but what you do have is the bully pulpit and you can use your popularity to kind of whip votes — but if you don’t have that popularity — it’s tough to whip those votes.”
Bratt said you have to look at it with a wider lens too and questions viewers to ask: “Is this a reflection of her performance or the reflection just of unhappiness in the city at this moment in time?”
— with files from Adam MacVicar, Global News.