Terry Wong had his first crack at city council in the 2013 Ward 2 race.
He said he ran then because he wanted to see positive change happen at city hall. He had spent 30 years working for the city prior to his run.
“During my years there as a manager, there was only so much I could do. The only way to affect change is it goes through council – public policy change,” Wong told LiveWire Calgary.
After losing to current Ward 2 Coun. Joe Magliocca, Wong set about community involvement. He’s sat as both the president of the Hounsfield Heights – Briar Hill Community Association and as the executive director for the Chinatown Business Improvement Area.
Now he got his eye on city hall again. This time as a candidate in Ward 7. There are seven candidates in this race so far.
Wong said in his time with the community organizations he’s had to deal with the city in a variety of ways.
“I’ve been challenged by… the ideologies and cultures, but more importantly the way in which they’re engaging communities,” he said.
“That’s really not helpful anymore.”
Wong said as a result of some recent community challenges, particularly around the Guidebook for Great Communities, people approached him about a run for city council. He said between October 2020 and now he’s been having long conversations and garnered support in the area for a run at the Ward 7 seat.
“I saw more and more things happening at City Hall which really upset communities, and I said, ‘you know what, I’m going to flip the coin and do it,” he said.
“And as a result, here I am.”
Post-pandemic recovery will be the main focus
Wong said Calgary is going to have to re-evaluate a lot of things coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. People are adjusting to a new reality, and cities must do the same, he said.
He said it affects everything from the downtown plan, adapting to the new workforce needs, the Green Line and investment into communities.
“I think the post-pandemic realities will cause the city to rethink its priorities and pivot accordingly,” he said.
One of the areas he believes will get a lot of attention – and for good reason – is the downtown strategy. Wong said the tax base lost to the downtown vacancies is crippling. The city’s recently approved Greater Downtown Plan has some good things in it but isn’t enough of a short-term catalyst for invigorating the area.
“Are we chasing after a horse that may not be realized in a short term?” Wong said.
“Are there other short-term ways of reinvigorating downtown core, and are we approaching some of what I call low-hanging-fruit approaches to getting there?”
Wong said he agrees with the idea to rebuild the area with a neighbourhood feel. It’s too much of a six-o’clock drive home area. It lacks vibrancy beyond that and he’d like to see the city do more to push that forward.
City hall culture
Wong said he thinks the culture at the City of Calgary needs to change. It needs to be citizen-driven, rather than administration-driven.
He said going through the Green Line debate, the recent Guidebook public hearings and others, he’s seen the same thing: The feeling citizens aren’t being engaged effectively.
Wong said the city delivers engagement in a way where they’ve already come up with a plan and they ask, “what do you think?” He said citizens are telling him they want to be a part of that original solution.
“The communities are feeling that they’re not being asked, but rather they’re being told,” he said.
“Regardless of if you’re Ward 7 or all of the city, my platform is getting back to listening, learning, and leading people in a way where they set the priorities.”
Tied to the Guidebook and engagement is the notion of densifying the inner city. Wong will vie to replace outgoing Coun. Druh Farrell, who was an ardent supporter of sustainable communities.
Wong said he supports density. How we get there is the question.
“We need to spend time working with communities and saying, how do we get there. Not the approach saying, ‘We know best,’” Wong said.
Green Line, Events Centre project
Wong supports the Green Line construction, but he said we might need to approach the alignment in a different way. He suggested there’s a better way to reach businesses and the community than the current alignment.
He said it’s wise for the province to be asking for a re-evaluation of tunneling in the core. Particularly because of the high water tables there. Wong said this isn’t the time to do something that’s second best just because the city wants to move ahead with it.
“If wise minds are asking a question then wise people should follow through and do the proper due diligence before approaching something and instead of being $5-to-6 billion that comes in at 7, 8, 9 billion later on,” he said.
In addition, Wong wants to see better crosstown transit networks, so citizens can get anywhere they want, 24/7.
In terms of the Events Centre, Wong understands the premise of the $550 million project. The city’s on the hook for more than half that cost.
“When we spend that kind of money, is it truly available for all Calgarians to enjoy,” he said.
He’d like to see a substantial number of game tickets – perhaps as much as 10-to-15 per cent being given back to community organizations to make game attendance more affordable.
Should the matter come back to council requiring more cash, he said we’d need to look at who that extra cost is serving: Public or private interests.
‘We’re a great city’: Wong
In the time he spent working at the City of Calgary, Wong said he saw a great deal of competency in the people who worked alongside him.
Wong wants to harness that to help push the city forward. But, he wants to see it focused in the right way.
“I think in the last little while here we probably become a little more of a leading type of organization as opposed to an enabling organization,” he said.
He said we need to be asking Calgarians about the things that keep them up at night, strategize how to address those things in services and budget – and then deliver.
Wong wants to be a part of delivering those solutions as a councillor in Ward 7.
“I have served both the city and in the community, and my model of serving is listening, learning and I represent them,” he said.
“Ultimately, what my motto has been, is do the right things and do it the right way.”