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Connected to community: Naomi Withers makes a run at Calgary’s Ward 9 city council seat

Naomi Withers said it was her quest to help save the Inglewood and Beltline pools that really gave her a taste of how she could have an impact in her community.

She said the pools weren’t being recognized for the positive impact they had in their respective neighbourhoods.

“The fact that it took 30,000 signatures on a petition to have our city council reconsider that decision, really made me think about the way that our system works,” Withers told LiveWire Calgary.

“If I wanted to change the way our system works, I knew I needed to become part of the system.”

That’s why Withers has put her name forward to run for Calgary city council in Ward 9.

Withers has been an active community association member and volunteer. She’s also been exposed to the city’s land use and development process – along with the engagement part of it.  

She has supply chain expertise built through her career. That’s going to come in very handy if elected, Withers said.

“I believe that the ability to responsibly spend money is a major part of the role of a city councillor,” she said.

Withers said experience with the community, but also in business, is at the root of her campaign tagline: Business Smart, Community Heart.

Top issue: Accessibility

Withers said there’s a big challenge ahead for Calgary in making the city and its services accessible to citizens.

That’s access to resources for senior citizens, supports for those experiencing poverty or others that require a means of transit or transportation.

“That falls under the work of our municipal government to make sure that we have an accessible city that supports all of its residents,” Withers said.

In Ward 9 specifically, Withers said access to a low-cost or no-cost amenity space is something she’s heard across community boundaries. She pointed to Radisson Heights, where she said the community association had their building bulldozed. Or, in Dover, where residents have to navigate a maze of transit options just to get to the Genesis Centre to find an indoor basketball court.

“Access to amenities is pretty big across Ward 9,” Withers said.

She also said that residents want to feel proud of their communities. Safety in the area goes a long way to providing that sense of pride in an area, Withers said.

Withers would also like to see a greater emphasis on arts and culture, particularly along the International Avenue (17 Avenue SE) corridor.

“I think that we can focus on using what our community members know and love and where their skills are and really adding that vibrancy to Ward 9 so that it becomes a resilient community,” she said.

Green Line go ahead

Withers said the Ramsay / Inglewood station along the Green Line is going to provide a very accessible location for residents to access transit.

Withers supports the $5 billion Green Line infrastructure project, but would like it from Seton to 160 Avenue N as soon as possible.

“(The north) have the population to make that line work, and those are commuters that are coming into downtown. I think the city needs to fund the full Green Line,” she said.

“If you talk about Seton and those community members, that’s where the bulk of the population is. So, they’re actually going to have to go through and either drive to a train station, or wait for public transit in terms of a bus or shuttle bus to get to that Green Line station.”

She’s concerned if the Green Line isn’t extended south to Seton that we won’t be able to make the ridership business case that’s been set out.

Withers also believe a transit line to the airport is also a priority.

“If we need to diversify the economic engines of the City of Calgary, we need to look at tourism,” she said.

“We need to take a model from Vancouver, where they have the Canada Line that goes out to the airport, and be able to make our city accessible to tourists.”

Arena deal / Arts Commons

Withers believes this is where her expertise would come in. As a supply chain expert, she’s negotiated deals worth hundreds of millions.

She knows that a deal with Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corp is already done. Finer details of that deal won’t be known until she’s elected, she said.

Withers would have liked to see more transparency with the project to make sure citizens understand how tax dollars are being spent.

“It is our job as city council to effectively use tax dollars for the betterment of the City of Calgary and so that is my job as a councillor is to look at that deal when I’m in office and make sure that we get a return on investment for our city,” she said.

Withers is a supporter of the Arts Common Transformation.

“I believe that arts and culture are going to be a crucial part of our economic picture moving forward,” she said.

Police funding reallocation / city growth

Withers said she believes the Calgary police need better training to address the diversity of needs among the citizens it serves.

She’d like to see a compassionate lens applied when calls come into 911.

Withers volunteered with the Calgary Police Service through the city’s Aboriginal Affairs Committee to help drive recruitment among Indigenous peoples.

“I think that’s one of the ways that we can work with the Calgary Police Service is to make sure that the members who serve represent the diverse populations within the City of Calgary,” Withers said.

“That will also help with some of the issues that we’re seeing where people are afraid to approach the police because they think of it as a police force, and not a police service.”

In terms of community growth, Withers said the city needs to be balanced in its approach.

The city needs to look at its ability to provide service and amenities to new growth areas without sacrificing the needs of changing inner city communities.

Withers said there needs to be engagement with existing to communities to ensure redevelopment reflects their needs and desires.

“It needs to be real and thoughtful and have weight in our decision making when we talk about how we grow as a city,” she said.

Diverse background, experiences

Withers said her wide-ranging experience – whether it’s supply chain or working with the Calgary Police Service or her community association – has set her up as an ideal candidate for Ward 9.

She’s also lived in six of the Ward 9 communities. She said she understands the people who live in East Calgary.

“I come from a working-class family, who lived and grew up in Forest Lawn,” she said.

She worked as an hourly employee at the Forest Lawn Sobey’s and made her way through university before making a career in oil and gas.

“I personally feel connected to the stories and the lived experiences of much of Ward 9,” Withers said.

“When I’m at the doors, I understand the stories that community members are telling me about what they want and need in their communities.”