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Progressive Calgary: Former MP Kent Hehr joins the race to be Calgary’s next mayor

Former Calgary MP and MLA Kent Hehr is the latest entrant into a massive field running to be the city’s next mayor.  

Hehr spoke with LiveWire Calgary about the announcement on Monday afternoon. His entry puts the number of mayoral candidates in October’s municipal election at 28.  Hehr is expected to file his official papers Tuesday.

After spending seven years as the MLA for the riding of Calgary Buffalo, Hehr became a Liberal MP in the riding of Calgary Centre. He served in that riding until being defeated in the last federal election by Conservative candidate Greg McLean. 

Hehr said there are no mayoral candidates right now with true progressive values. He’s been a progressive politician for the past 12 years, he said.

“I know that the people of Calgary have concerns about wanting a progressive politician; a person who has lived those values each and every day over the last 12 years and beyond,” he said.

RELATED: Calgary candidates list, with links to their profile stories

The decision came about after spending the summer listening and hearing from Calgarians about the kind of city they want.

“You know me, I chat to people about their lives, their hopes and dreams for a better future for this city and all summer long they were telling me, ‘you know there’s not someone with progressive values, someone with a history of being a local politician who has an ear to the ground,’” Hehr said.

Top Calgary issues

When Hehr said he was talking with Calgarians, he heard about the economy. He said he also heard citizens talking about being an inclusive city and being a climate change leader, along with having a robust public transportation system.

 “We are seeing Calgary at a transition. I think that our best days truly lie ahead,” Hehr said.

Hehr said continuing to diversify the economy is critical. The city also needs to forge ahead with plans to get more people living and working in the downtown.

Hehr also zeroed in on poverty and affordable housing in Calgary. He said 10 per cent of citizens are living below the poverty line. More than 3,000 don’t have steady housing.  Hehr said roughly 4,400 people await Calgary housing. More than 15,000 Calgarians are spending more than 30 per cent of their income on housing.

“We need to do better on all these issues to move our city forward. That’s the type of platform that I’m going to present, the type of campaign we’re going to run,” Hehr said.

“A positive campaign focused on moving people forward.”

Green Line / Arena projects

Hehr said the Green Line is a generational project. He said he believes the plan the city has put forward is a good one.

“I think it’s a necessary project that will allow us to connect the city from the deep south to the north side,” he said.

“No city has ever regretted investments in public transportation.”

On the arena front, Hehr admits he’s a big Calgary Flames fan. He’s just not a fan of the deal given to Calgary Sport and Entertainment Corporation.

“I cheer for them every single game, and I’m excited when they play,” Hehr said.

“But let’s also be clear, public money should not be going into funding a private sports team, with billionaire owners, and a team who does very well in earning revenue.”

Hehr said every study he’s read shows no new economic benefit from public money in a new arena facility. He said it simply displaces money from elsewhere.

If you take the $300 million the city put into the arena project, Hehr said that could conceivably have created 2,400 affordable housing units in Calgary.

“You have choices to make, and you have limited resources. And I think that was a mistake,” he said.

Still, Hehr said that given the state of the project today, it just needs to move ahead.

Development and police funding

Hehr said it’s pretty clear – and has been for the past 15 years – that Calgary needs to grow up, not out.

“In order for us to keep running high quality public services, supporting great transit, having climate change policy that works, urban sprawl should not continue willy-nilly in my view,” he said.

Hehr reiterated the cliché that the peanut butter is being spread too thin in Calgary. Further expansion isn’t helping taxpayers and is environmentally challenging.

Still, proper public engagement on established area development is key, he said. When “gentle densification” is happening, councillors need to be listening to their communities.  Their voices need to be heard and their issues understood, not dismissed.

“But we can’t be scared of doing what is right and any urban planner will tell you that a modern city needs to densify,” he said.

On police funding, Hehr said we learned a lot from the Black Lives Matter movement. He said racialized Calgarians interact different with our institutions than someone like him.

“That needs to change,” Hehr said.  

“And we believe that a more dynamic approach to policing, a more holistic approach to policing, one that will allow for people to move forward in a progressive way in a more sound fashion is available.”

Workplace harassment and a vote split

Hehr left the Liberal Party cabinet in 2018 amid sexual harassment allegations from his time as a member of Alberta’s legislature. He remained in the Liberal party caucus.  A report was later published on the incidents but it wasn’t made public.  

“I believe a more fulsome account of what happened is available, people can Google my name, read the account of events and decide for themselves in a fair manner,” Hehr said.

He said distance and time have helped him put this issue into better perspective. He said in that time he’s been on a “deep, personal journey” that has revealed unfair structures in place holding women and girls back.

“People in positions like the mayor of Calgary need to lean in and work every single day to break down those barriers. To ensure women and girls are safe, to ensure that women and girls find success, to ensure we have a city that is built for them and around them, that allows them to achieve their hopes and their dreams for a better way of life,” Hehr said

We also asked about concerns of potential vote split on the centre left – and about entering the race late. Several other high profile candidates have been in the race for months.

Hehr said he’s been a progressive politician for 12 years, “before it became cool here.” He said he takes those values to his job, every day.

“But, if someone was basing their path to victory on someone not entering the race, or another progressive entering the race or someone not running on good ideas, I don’t think that was a very well thought out campaign,” he said.

I love this city’

Hehr said he was born here. He was raised here. He continues his work as a lawyer here in Calgary.  

“I had every opportunity to build my life here,” he said.

“I went to great public schools, played hockey at public rinks, swam in public schools, played baseball in public diamonds – rode, public busing systems. I want those opportunities for people in this city moving forward.”

He said he wants Calgarians to live in great neighbourhoods with great public services that allows them to build their lives here like he has.

(FOLLOW UP: We asked if Kent Hehr would be posting his donors. Members of his campaign team said he would be.)