Erin Waite said if there had been a municipal election right after the 2018 Calgary Olympic vote, she would have dove right in.
Waite was a part of the No Olympics campaign at the time, and after the no side prevailed, she had the bug to continue to involvement in city policy. That’s where the seeds of a city council run took hold.
On Thursday, the 30-year resident of Calgary officially filed her papers to run for Calgary city council in Ward 7. Druh Farrell announced earlier this year she wouldn’t be running again.
The Olympic debate heightened her interest in city politics. Waite was concerned that the conversation wasn’t going to be balanced.
“That was a bit of a deep dive into a city issue that I felt was important to have respectful conversation,” Waite told LiveWire Calgary.
“That was what interested me, and that just really piqued my interest in getting actively involved in in our city.”
Her work in Calgary’s non-profit sector has also exposed her to inequities that exist in the city. She works with families with disabilities and saw the barriers they faced in the city that other residents don’t.
“That kind of awareness just got me way more interested in what happens on the ground and through city council and policy,” Waite said.
But what drove the leap for civic office was talking with Calgarians to see if they shared the same vision.
“The decision to actually pull the trigger was talking to people to see if my gut instincts were right. That the kind of excitement I feel about this city, people share it, and would they get behind it and think I’m the right one to try and do that,” she said.
Downtown a priority
Waite said not only is the city’s downtown success a city-wide issue, but it’s a big one for Ward 7. It’s especially important now that boundary changes put the downtown area completely in the ward.
She called it a conundrum because of the unique challenge that lies ahead for the city. Scads of empty square footage may never see downtown office workers again.
“It’s a true rethink of how we’re using all that square footage and that area in a completely different way,” Waite said.
“It’s a big change that we need to have happened in downtown. I don’t have the answers. It’s actually an exciting opportunity that that actually could end up better than where it was before.”
While the downtown is a major issue in the ward, there are 15 other communities that also need attention. Waite is up for that challenge.
“The process of the campaign means I have to get out to all those neighbourhoods. I know my own little community, in my own neighbourhood, because I’ve been here for 30 years,” she said.
“I need to get out and talk to more people and they will have issues that are as important to them or more important to them than how the downtown is doing.”
Green Line, inner city growth
Waite understands that Calgarians see the price tag of a major project like the Green Line and it makes them nervous.
She said it’s an excellent project over a 20-year evaluation.
“Sure, it’s a big project and that means a big cost. It will be the kind of thing that 10 years or 20 years later you look back and say ‘that was absolutely the right thing to do,’” Waite said.
It’s critical to ensure good public transit access across Calgary, Waite said. It may be a scary prospect for many Calgarians, in the evolution of a city, big projects like this are necessary.
Waite also said a commitment to inner city density is important. She said many of Calgary’s established neighbourhoods are going through a natural population evolution. Understanding this and taking action to ensure population stays at a level that supports area services – and tax base – is critical.
As an inner-city resident, Waite said she understands the desire to preserve that space.
“There’s a balance of that individual’s perspective and how that density and growth will affect them, and that has to be honoured and respected,” she said.
“It has to be smart growth and to me that does mean increased density in our core areas before you start expanding and sprawling further out.”
Waite has personal opinions on other issues such as fluoride, residential speed and Calgary police funding. She said she’s got work to do to fully understand the specific issues and the perspectives of others.
“One of the things people say about me is I have strong opinions but that I’m also willing to be informed and learn more and change in opinion,” she said.
As the campaign wears on, her position on these topics will be shared with Calgarians, she said.
Culmination of experience and expertise
Waite likes what she’s seen from the city during the COVID-19 pandemic. She wants to contribute to that as a city councillor.
The city’s been able to pivot with new ideas and creative ways of tackling problems, she said.
“One of the reasons I’m running is that I get a sense that there’s a true shift in feeling in this city,” Waite said.
“Everyone’s tired of talking about both an economic downturn and the pandemic, and it’s time to look forward and just start doing some stuff and doing making some change.”
After her endeavours with the Olympics and work in the non-profit sector, Waite said she wants to help lead the city forward.
“I’ve had that feeling that this is the culmination of the experience and expertise I’ve built over my career. That this is kind of where it all comes together and I can put it on the table and actually make a difference,” she said.
“I want a city where our kids grow up and they choose to be here because it’s full of opportunity and it’s exciting as a city. I think we’ve lost that for a while and I think I can help get that back.”
Calgary’s municipal election will be held Oct. 18, 2021.