Jyoti Gondek said Calgary needs to achieve a state of balance before moving ahead.
The current ward 3 councillor said it’s time to stop the pendulum, get the economy on sound footing, end the ideological polarization… and steady the ship.
She’s vying to be the captain.
Gondek announced her run for mayor of Calgary Wednesday, adding her name to a growing field of candidates. Current mayor Naheed Nenshi hasn’t yet made an announcement on his future. Earlier Wednesday, Zane Novak jumped into the race.
The one-term councillor said that she’s asked a lot of very basic, but important questions over the past three years. She was learning and understanding how the city functions.
“As a city, we should be providing the best possible outcomes for people and if we’re not, who do we need to partner with to make sure people are getting the types of things that they need,” Gondek told LiveWire Calgary Wednesday.
“I asked those questions because every Calgarian is an investor; you’ve decided that this is the city where you want to live, and you’ve made a pretty big investment. I think as a local government, we owe people a return on that.”
Building on what we have
Gondek said what 2020 showed her is that citizens, business, city administration, councillors – all are able to come together to push ahead.
“We were able to set our differences aside and work together to make sure that we understand each other, and what our common struggles are, what our desires are, and how each of us has a role to play,” she said.
“I think it was incredible.”
That doesn’t mean council itself wasn’t without its division. City council has been regularly criticized for in-meeting, sometimes petty spats that give the impression council isn’t delivering for Calgarians.
Gondek, who was involved in several of those council exchanges, said they’re often borne from the passion each councillor has for representing the interests of area residents.
She used the example of the Green Line. There were many differing perspectives on how to approach the Green Line alignment over the summer. She wanted better service promised to the north.
Gondek led councillors on a driving tour of the area to show them some of the challenges. It helped her illustrate where she was coming from, she said.
“It is sometimes really difficult to get your point across when we represent such a big and diverse city,” she said.
“I think people latch on to the debates and the arguments we have, and sometimes I think they forget about the great outcomes. We got a 14 to 1 decision on the Green Line.
“So, we do come together. It’s sometimes a bit noisy to get there.”
The Green Line
Councillors came together over the summer to hammer out the Green Line deal. In that time, 17 recommendations came forward – each councillor with a different perspective, Gondek said – and they eventually came to a decision.
While the Green Line is being held up in provincial bureaucracy, Gondek said after the council and admin review, the project is sound.
“I think that process was so intensive that we covered a lot of the issues others are saying they’re concerned about,” Gondek said.
“I really think people need to revisit that work to understand the due diligence we did.”
She said they questioned the risk, they questioned the staging and the cost controls – everything the province is concerned about.
Defunding / relocation of Calgary police budget
Gondek, who served on the Calgary Police Commission until the most recent organizational shuffle, still had a hand in the budget submission made by the Calgary police.
It called for a combination of changes totalling $40 million, including cash to explore an alternative call model.
We asked where she stood on defunding and alternative call models. Gondek said the most recent submission showed leadership on the part of police.
She said this has been a polarization issue that’s created ripples through the community.
“What I was most impressed with when the police budget was submitted … is that they took to heart the fact that the police should not have to be on every single call,” Gondek said.
“When you talk to members of the service, they’re extremely frustrated that everything has been dumped in their lap.”
She said they understand the need to strike partnerships. They want officers supported by experts in mental health and medicine so the proper response is delivered.
The lagging economy
Gondek said city council has been playing a game of catch up. After being warned of real estate value troubles back in 2013 and 2014, the City failed to act, she said.
She said the city has tried all sorts of Band-Aid solutions to aid those impacted by spiking tax rates.
“The real issue here is if the economy has changed to a degree that we stand to collect less property taxes, which is the only steady revenue stream we have, is it really fair for us to still be sending 40 per cent of our property taxes we collect up to the province?” Gondek said.
“I’d certainly like some accountability of where they’re (province) spending those funds.”
When pressed for local solutions to the ailing economy, Gondek said the city does have some levers that can continue to aid small business. The key, however, lies in fostering non-traditional business like film, music, she said.
“If we’re competing head-to-head with other provinces that have incentive programs and we don’t, that’s why we’re at a loss,” Gondek said.
Further, she wants to listen to city leasing experts to find ways to quicken land-use changes. That will allow for easier access to a wider range of tenants.
“That would really revive the (downtown) core,” Gondek said.
The road ahead
Gondek said that from day one, she’d want to talk with newly-elected councillors to dig into their priorities. She wants to find out what they’re passionate about and the experience they bring to their role.
“That’s the only way we’re going to build a strong team,” she said.
She believes her experience working with past city committees – even prior to being elected – has helped prepare her for this moment.
Gondek understands campaigns can get sidetracked and candidates lose sight of what’s important. She’s hoping to remind herself along the way of why she’s running.
“Every time you talk to a citizen and they tell you what it is they love about the city and they tell you what’s frustrating them right now – those are your marching orders, that’s who you need to listen to,” she said.