Yes, Look Forward Calgary is a Political Action Committee (PAC), but they said they’re different.
The group officially launched this week, eight months ahead of Calgary’s Oct. 18 municipal election.
PACs, or in layman’s terms, third-party advertisers, will play a larger role in the 2021 municipal election. Rule changes brought in by the Alberta government eliminated spending limits for the groups. Currently, Calgary has one officially registered third-party advertiser: Calgarians for a Progressive Future.
Look Forward board member Irfhan Rawji said their group is focused on a vision for the city – regardless of ideology – and drawing people together with similar values.
The group sees climate security, a strong and resilient business environment, an inclusive economy as pillars for Calgary’s future. Rawji also said there’s a real distaste for the “vitriol” in the current city council.
“This is a time where we need to come together, we need to have leadership,” he said.
“We can’t afford to be fighting each other. We have to unite.”
Board member Patricia Phillips said evidence of their collaborative approach is in the political background of both she and Rawji. Phillips was finance chair for 2017 mayoral candidate Bill Smith. Rawji was an active fundraiser for the Naheed Nenshi campaign.
“I think it really demonstrates the thought leadership that’s going into this PAC is both Irfhan and I setting aside, saying we’re not going to accomplish what we really need for all Calgarians if we represent opposing views,” she said.
“We need to collaborate and understand what people want and move forward and put together a team that’s able to engage with Calgarians and execute on what they need.”
The big money of PACs
Rawji said one of the hallmarks of the Canadian election system has been that there are limits to spending. He said it’s made it more accessible for voters.
And, they’re aware of the sometimes negative connotation of PACs.
But, Look Forward believes they need to work within the system. Other PACs out there are operating, after all.
“This is the framework that we’re working in, so we need to be responsive to it to make sure that, despite the structures that are out there, the proper conversations and then productive discussion is happening,” said Rawji.
Look Forward has a membership system, open to anyone. The suggested sign up is $21, but members can join for nothing.
By developing Look Forward Calgary, they’re hoping to help stimulate the right conversations about the future of the city.
Their approach, their plan
Their vision is to create a thriving, inclusive and resilient Calgary.
“We do worry that there are vulnerable populations that are being left behind and that’s just not sustainable,” said Rawji.
“We need a thriving Calgary for everyone who’s already here.”
Rawji said Look Forward is simply a vehicle to bring Calgarians together to build policies. Then, eventually get elected a group of candidates that can realize that vision.
Phillips said early research has shown them what issues are important to Calgarians and one they want to provide a framework for engaging citizens on these issues.
The economy, effective public transit, climate issues and local safety and security are major topics that come up.
Then, comes the candidates.
“Look Forward is very much exploring all those measures and we are focused on endorsing candidates based on the outcomes of those issues,” Phillips said.
Where they hope to separate themselves from other PACs is by using fact-based determinations on issues – not ideology.
“I don’t think the issues that we are seeing are any different, but we fundamentally believe that the approach to actually solving them needs to be different,” Rawji said.
Rawji said they will interview candidates that are open to it and determine who best aligns with their platform. Those selected candidates will get an endorsement.
“We don’t plan on advertising for those candidates,” he said.
“We do think we’ll spend our time engaging in conversation, including engaging and potentially advertising, as it relates to the issues that we think are important.”
Diverse group leading Look Forward
Phillips said the diversity in opinions and backgrounds is evident in the board of governors put together. CFL Hall of Fame running back Jon Cornish and local social entrepreneur and community builder, Lourdes Juan, are just two of the names involved in Look Forward.
It was important for the group to draw from non-profit, business and other sectors in Calgary to round out the vision for the city.
Phillips said the group meets weekly to understand what each of the areas envisions policy wise.
That was the goal when the first set out with Look Forward, Rawji said.
“We were very deliberate in thinking about our board of governors and making sure that it represented the diversity of the community,” he said.
How they define success in the upcoming election is rooted in that diversity. They want to engage a wide range of Calgarians in their campaign. They want to build a broad set of policies that are best for Calgary.
Of course, they want elected leaders that share that vision.
“It’s not just about believing in the platform policies that we hope to collectively develop here with our citizens,” said Rawji.
“But it’s also about being able to lead and work effectively together, productively, constructively, to help pull Calgary from where it is to where we hope to be.”