The finale: Four Calgary councillors share their thoughts prior to the final city council meeting

Monday's meeting is the final combined meeting of Calgary city council for the 2017 to 2021 term in office; 10 seats are up for grabs in the municipal election

Calgary 2017-2021 final city hall photo. (Missing is Ward Sutherland (ill) and Ray Jones (retired).) DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Calgary city Coun. Druh Farrell said she’s going to approach her final full meeting of council the same as she would any meeting.

“We have we have work to do,” Farrell told LiveWire Calgary.

“I’ll approach this meeting like I have all my other meetings over 20 years… trying to make the best decisions possible for the future of our city and ward seven.”

Farrell is one of four councillors who talked with LiveWire Calgary about the final meeting of this four-year council term. It starts Monday at 9:30 a.m.

For these four councillors, it will be their last meeting as elected ward reps around the council horseshoe.  They’ve been on council together for the past eight years.

While there may be some current councillors re-elected – either as councillor or mayor – at least 10 ward seats will have new faces.  

Couns. Shane Keating (Ward 12), Ward Sutherland (Ward 1) and Evan Woolley (Ward 8) and Farrell (Ward 7) won’t be among those in the new city council come Oct. 19. (Oct. 18 is the election day.)  They’ve decided to go their separate ways after this term.

It’s a hefty agenda; the final meeting could go three days.  

“I have a lot of items on the agenda. There’s quite a bit of work there,” said Woolley, a two-term councillor, first elected in 2013.

“We’re tying a bow on a lot of things and we’re setting up the next council for the next opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.”

Reflection on the last four – or eight – years

Ward Sutherland said over the past two weeks he’s been thinking about the good, the bad and the ugly of the past eight years. In that way, he said it’s much like any other job where you spend a long time.

Sutherland said he had a hard time thinking about what he enjoyed the most.

“I think the most I liked about my job was people. I really had an opportunity to meet all different types of people that I would have never met in my life,” he said.

Sutherland said he met people from all parts of society – and it impacted him personally. He said it made him more considerate and understanding of Calgary’s citizens.

“You have the containment of your friends and your bubble, and you’re not always aware of what’s around you in the world. It was a huge eye opener for me. And it was a positive eye opener.”

Keating, who served three terms (11 years) on council, said it’s definitely bittersweet entering his final meeting of council.  

“It’s not bitter enough that I’m regretting the move on. In my view, it’s absolutely time for me to go,” he said.

Keating recalled that after being first elected in 2010, he was driving along Memorial Drive and noticed the bustle of construction on the Bow Building in downtown Calgary. He thought at the time it was going to be interesting being in a position where he’d likely have his pulse on things emerging in Calgary.

“I would love to hang around for another four years and see the changes; the Event Center and Arts Commons and a number of these things that have all been shaken loose from the ‘what-if’ tree. And they’re actually going to happen,” he said.

Gratitude

Woolley said it’s been a pretty foundational decade for this council. So much has changed in Calgary.

“I’m being reflective, like many, thankful, you know, feeling a lot of gratitude,” he said.

He’d wondered over the summer if he would regret his decision to leave. He was worried about second-guessing himself.

“I haven’t at all,” he said.

“So, I don’t know if it will be a relief, but that gavel banging (to end this final meeting) will signify that next chapter, both for me and will also signify the next chapter for the next member of council that will be taking my place.”

Farrell said when this meeting ends, it will be a mixed bag of nostalgia, relief, uncertainty and opportunity.

“That would be normal for anyone who’s retiring from a position they’ve held for so long,” she said.  Farrell has been on city council since being first elected in Ward 7 back in 2001.  This year, she decided it was time to move on.

She, too, said it would be a bittersweet goodbye.

A council of division

Sutherland said even after eight years, he still doesn’t like politics. He said it’s ugly.

“Unfortunately, people have become so divisive and so closed-minded and taking positions whether it be religious or ideology and staying ingrained and not looking at the bigger picture,” he said.

“And I think for me, I found that disappointing.”

Of the four councillors we talked to, three brought up the division on council unprompted. For those who have watched council for the past four years, the divide was evident.

Farrell called it “tribalism.”

“With this council, it was less trying to find common ground, and focusing on what’s best for the city, and more divided than I’ve ever seen. And it’s easy to divide, it’s harder to unite,” she said.

“I hope that in the next council, they’ll find a way to work together for the best interests of Calgarians.”

Keating said a few of the “characters on council” can take credit for the division. He said the goal from the beginning was to disrupt. Most of it was petty, trying to make others look bad.

“It’s not something that I’m going to hang my hat on or remember or keep with me,” Keating said.

“I’m going to think of all the better times and the great things that we did and in 11 years, leaving this last council, we did some great things for the city.”

Successful council?

The quartet of councillors we spoke to universally said this council would be looked upon favourably. Perhaps in time.

Keating said it goes all the way back to 2011 and 2012 and the delivery of new rec centres in Calgary. Of course, he helped Shepard in the $5 billion Green Line era.  But the city made headway on major infrastructure projects like the Events Centre, Arts Commons and bus rapid transit.

It did it while dealing with the cratering of downtown property values, the collapse of oil and nearly two years of COVID-19. Property taxes continued to rise. Meanwhile, provincial funding to cities had been cut. The divide on council could be seen reflected in citizens.  Social change was afoot with the chain of events set off by Black Lives Matter and the recognition of systemic racism. In many cases, they had to scale back approved budgets and continue to build at the same time. They dealt with secondary suites.

Keating also said the change included going from “alderman” to the gender-neutral term “councillor.” That was one of the first acts of the new 2010 council.

“I think what will be remembered, in many cases, is the actual work that got done,” he said.

Woolley agreed. A lot got done on council despite what was stacked against them, he said. He thinks history will be kind to them. But the work goes on.

“We’re not out of this transition. I think we probably have another decade to make some good decisions, to make the right investments to see ourselves through whatever that new future might look like,” he said.

Sutherland said people tend to focus on the negative. A significant number of files got completed. But, yes, more could have been done, he said.

“I’m surprised when I talk to people when they think absolutely nothing has happened over this period of time, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said.

The final gavel

Farrell said she and her Ward 7 team have been wrapping up the big files to ensure the best transition for her successor.

At 66, Keating is pondering what full retirement might look like.

Woolley said he’s still got a lot of gas in the tank, and he’ll continue his work building community in other ways.  

Sutherland is anxious about the future of Calgary. He hopes there’s a wake-up call after the federal election. He wants people to pay attention to what’s happening in the municipal election.  Ten of 14 councillors, and the mayor, will be changing, he said.

Keating talks again about having that pulse on the city. He’ll miss it. They had the inside information on where Calgary was headed and felt they were making the best decisions for the city. He won’t have that – but the new council will.

“So, I’ll be sitting outside and just saying, ‘oh why did they do that,’ and I’ll have to give whoever’s here the benefit of the doubt that they’re making the best decision that they can,” he said.

It was a weird finish to this council, said Farrell. For the past 18 months, this group has been working apart. She hasn’t been to a regular council meeting since March 2020.

Most of the members will be at the final meeting – in person – for a final hurrah. Farrell though won’t be attending in person. Ray Jones, who retired mid-term, may not be there either.

“I said goodbye a long time ago to that room,” Farrell said.  

“I spent more time at City Hall than I did at home. And so, it feels like a home to me, and it will be a big change, but I’m excited about this final meeting.”

About Darren Krause 910 Articles
Journalist, husband, father, golfer, writer, painter, video gamer, gardener, amateur botanist, dreamer, realist... never in that order.

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