DJ Kelly said that it all started to happen when people in his neighbourhood started looking down the road in 2021.
Whether it was the new year, the springtime was emerging, or that a COVID-19 vaccine was rolling out, people had begun looking at the future and had a light bulb moment, he said.
There’s a municipal election in October.
“And our particular neighborhood, Winston Heights – Mountainview, will be moving to Ward four. It kind of led them to realize that Sean Chu would potentially be our councillor,” Kelly said.
“When they realized that, I got a lot of calls encouraging me to run.”
He said he’s been a community builder for the past decade, having served as president of the area community association for six years, and on the board for another five.
Now Kelly has his sights set on the Ward 4 seat.
Kelly, a project manager by trade, who’s worked at the University of Calgary, the City of Calgary and the United Way of Calgary and area, said this city is full of opportunity. We just need the right elected people to capture the potential.
“We need a council that can work together with each other, with you, with I, with our neighbours, to keep our city growing and to move into the future,” he said.
“And quite frankly, Sean Chu has proven that he doesn’t have the skills that we need right here, right now.”
Kelly, an avid city hall watcher, said he and those around him have struggled to find a single issue Chu has championed in his seven years on council.
Economy – the top priority
Like many candidates for city council, Kelly said gaining traction in the economy and getting people back to work must be the next council’s top priority.
He acknowledges that much of that is beyond a city’s control, but what Calgary can do, it must.
The city needs to support small businesses that survive the pandemic, he said.
“Some of this is really basic, but essentials like simplifying and speeding up permits, being flexible around changes establishing predictable tax bills,” he said.
Those are short and medium-term tasks. The city is undertaking a big evolution in its economy and Kelly said now’s the time to establish entirely new industries in Calgary.
“The time of the tens of thousands of oil and gas, head office jobs aren’t likely to return in the in the way that we wish that they would, so we need to nurture new options,” he said.
He said the city needs to make the ground “fertile” for small and medium-sized businesses to establish and grow.
In doing so, Kelly wants to make sure there’s opportunity for everyone to succeed. It’s a part of making the city a place that everyone can be proud to call home, he said.
“That means a council needs to work with citizens and partners to combat things like systemic racism, homelessness, poverty, building a better transit system, more affordable housing for everyone,” he said.
“We need to listen to newcomers and accessibility advocates, and those who have traditionally been marginalized, about how we can make Calgary a great place for everyone.”
Green Line – full speed ahead
Kelly said the Green Line has been studied and studied and ultimately approved.
“It’s time to get started building,” he said.
He said Ward 4 would benefit greatly from the addition of the Green Line. It doesn’t have to just move people downtown, but it could make accessibility into many Ward 4 communities much easier for all of Calgary.
“Why has Sean Chu not been a more vocal supporter, like the councillors in the southeast,” Kelly said.
“He regularly appears, sort of, uninformed about the Green Line and it’s not something I think that we need to continue to accept from our representative.”
Kelly said due diligence must be done to ensure costs don’t spiral out of control. The decision’s been made, he said, and it’s time to get moving.
The Events Centre, another paused project, is something Kelly sees as an employment generator. It’s much like other arts and culture centres in Calgary.
“I definitely want to see the proposal that they’re going to come back with because I don’t believe that we should just write blank cheques to different organizations,” he said.
“There needs to be a clear return on this investment for Calgarians if City Council is going to support the arena.”
Downtown strategy, police funding
With the economy in mind, Kelly said a sound strategy to reboot the downtown is essential.
What he likes most about the recent Greater Downtown Plan pitched by the city is the unique ways they’re looking at repurposing the office towers.
“I also really like the fact that as part of the downtown strategy, there’s an awareness that we have to work with the people who own the properties downtown, with the residents of downtown, to be able to figure out exactly what works best for them and how we can revitalize their neighbourhoods,” Kelly said.
It ties a great deal to city taxes, too, he said. And in how the city invests money into the services it provides.
He’d like to see a shifting of priorities to a goal-oriented process. The city must deliver services that are needed to achieve that goal – and within that budget.
“We need councillors who are actually care about the details and can provide strategic direction and leadership on the impacts that savings and spending will have on our service levels,” he said.
That’s where the tie in is to police funding. He said it’s a great case of how we can invest money to achieve the best outcomes.
He was encouraged by Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld’s approach to the situation – agreeing that some money could be diverted to resources better equipped to handle certain calls.
“We need to build and need to have an inclusive city where everybody feels heard, feels safe and feels protected,” he said.
Unique Ward to represent
Kelly said that Ward 4 has a lot of diversity; not only in people but in community ages, level of redevelopment and in needs.
The things he hears consistently are the Green Line and the economy.
He said people want to stay in their neighbourhoods long term. Whether that’s by maintaining employment, having an affordable home, or having the services they need.
“It’s a very diverse Ward and I definitely think that’s one of the strengths of Calgary,” he said.
“It’s one of the things that is going to help Calgary address our future is leaning on that diversity.”
Kelly said his experience in community building and helping large organizations think about how to deliver on projects that impact people makes him an ideal councillor.
“I am willing to put aside my career to put that experience to work as a champion for Calgary,” he said.
“I’m asking residents of Ward 4 to lend me their votes to help our neighbourhoods and our city ready for the future that’s arriving.”