A year ago, politics wasn’t even on the radar for Evan Spencer.
He’s a self-described “long time community servant” who has been volunteering in his Mahogany neighbourhood for years. Now he’s running to serve Ward 12.
“As I moved here, to Mahogany, I was really focused on wanting to live a life that was kind of a meshed in and got everything I could out of, and gave back to, the place that I was going to raise my family,” said Spencer.
His work in the community put him in touch with local leaders like current Coun. Shane Keating and former MLA Rick Fraser. Spencer was doing project work and grant writing, collaborating with others to help build southeast communities.
Spencer said he was at a crossroads 12 months ago, at a time when Coun. Keating had an opening in his office.
“I would have viewed politics, not unlike the rest of my family, kind of with some suspicion,” Spencer said.
“That’s kind of a greasy place you avoid if you can.”
But the community work had incubated a desire to make his neighbourhood even better. By working with the area’s political offices, he quickly realized the role governance plays in that work.
He took the job on Keating’s team.
Keating announced his retirement earlier this year.
Looking for the right candidate… maybe it’s me?
Spencer worked for a bit this year on Steven Phan’s campaign and was a part a group encouraging Rick Fraser to run in Ward 12. Fraser opted out of a run in this year’s campaign and that left Spencer with another decision.
He’d been listening to people around the community and there was some interest in the current candidates. Still, Spencer heard a lot of “buts.”
Decision time came.
“This is definitely going to be one of these moments in life that I will replay on repeat around the campfire, and other places, because there was all these things lining up,” Spencer said.
“If I don’t do this, I’m probably going to kick myself. So, I took the plunge.”
The born-and-raised Calgarian, who grew up in North Central Calgary, spent 10 years working as a pastor. He realized that wasn’t something he wanted to do long-term.
Spencer then got involved in his homeowner’s association and then started Abundant Community – Copperfield Mahogany. That’s a group that inspires neighbours to work together for a better community.
He said on the campaign trail he’s going to talk about the high-level items like budget and policy. But, his campaign goes back to those softer community touches.
“When it comes right down to it, I’m a community organizer,” Spencer said.
“I want to advocate for people’s voices and help them be a part of their own solutions and their own neighbourhoods.”
Us vs. them
While Spencer said the Green Line and other mobility questions are top of mind in Ward 12, one of the pressing issues that jumps to mind is culture.
“There are certain kinds of politics that are popular, that are really stoking the us-versus-them. It’s really hard to move forward,” he said.
Spencer said that if you look at your neighbour with suspicion, you’ve lost the ability to believe that people want to look out for one another.
“Some people may call that naive, I believe we need to fight for that. We need to fight for the ability to look at the people around us and have a sense that we can do this together, that we can help each other and create the tomorrow that we all care about.”
On the fiscal front, Spencer said the city needs to look at creative ideas around spending. He said Calgarians should have more access to that conversation.
While the City is doing the Solutions to Achieve Value and Excellence (SAVE) program, with input from administration and city employees, he wants that opened to citizens. Spencer said simple things can make a big difference.
He mentioned a group in his neighbourhood who decided to clean city flower beds in the area. They’re not supposed to do that, Spencer said, but they did it anyway.
“They took some ownership in their own neighbourhood, and ultimately, that’s saving money off of a line item somewhere because those city crews are going to have to spend less time there,” he said.
“I think there’s a lot that we can explore as a city to help residents feel empowered again.”
Green Line, Event Centre
With Coun. Shane Keating being a driving force behind the Green Line, Spencer understands its importance in connecting southeast Calgary.
There’s a dream that Seton will be a “new hub” in the city, but Spencer said it’s not there yet.
“We just need to continue to focus on building out those pieces and I think connectivity with the rest of the city is a big part of that. So that’s definitely something that my neighbours are talking about,” he said.
Spencer also thinks infrastructure like the recently paused Events Centre are important in attracting long-term investment to Calgary.
“It hurts right now to think about spending that money on those pieces, when we’re dealing with what we’re dealing with right now, but it’s going to be for our benefit, benefit in the long run,” he said.
“I believe we need to continue to prioritize some of these projects that bring arts and culture to our city and make Calgary, a world class place to live, work and play.”
Police funding, speeds and fluoride
Spencer said the issue of defunding the police has been unfortunately politicized. He supports the Calgary Police Service and the work they’ve undertaken to reallocate funding.
“I think what they’re doing with reallocating those funds is just simply addressing some of the work that the police force was never intended to do, but ended up picking up along the way,” he said.
He believes the city’s speed limit debate is common sense. It’s “low hanging fruit” for candidates that want to stir up a storm, Spencer said. When you look at the data it overwhelmingly supports why the city should be going in this direction.
As far as fluoride, Spencer admits he hasn’t pored over the data yet. He said he tends toward the “leave it” side of things, but hasn’t formed a strong opinion on it.
Whatever the issue, Spencer said Ward 12 residents will have someone who is attentive to their voices. It’s work he’s been doing for the past six years in his community, and will continue to do it regardless of the election outcome.
“It isn’t just who I am, it’s built into my DNA. So they’re (Ward 12 residents) not going to have to force it from me,” he said.
“I’ve lived a life of integrity, and I’m a servant, through and through, and I don’t plan on stopping that.”