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Mayor Gondek and the first 100 days in Calgary’s top job

It’s been 100 days, and Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek has had a few things happen.

Fresh off a convincing Oct. 18, 2021 election win, Gondek immediately had to address allegations involving re-elected Ward 4 councillor Sean Chu.

From there, it was into a budget adjustment with a mostly new set of councillors. Plus, a climate emergency declaration. The fun didn’t stop as the bitter cold set in and hundreds of homeless Calgarians were exposed overnight.  Then, the Event Centre capitulation.

Don’t forget growing concern over Green Line cost escalation. And the protest outside her home.

Still, Mayor Gondek described the first 100 days in one word: Optimistic.

She said roundtable discussions she’s had with a diverse cross-section of groups – particularly those not always engaged – have gone well. Everyone’s sharing their perspective – arts, energy, newcomers.

“The conversation was so fulsome because they took away what each other was saying and added their own perspective to it,” Mayor Gondek said.  

“And in the end, we came away with a very clear understanding that the reputation of our city has to be rooted in who we are right now.”

The mayor said that the prior four years as Ward 3 councillor prepped her well. She’s come to expect the unexpected.

“I’m very aware that things come at you sometimes that you are not expecting and you have to be nimble and responsive and up to the task of addressing all of those different things that a municipal government has to look after, as well as many things that are not our responsibility,” she said.

Surprises in the 100 days

Mayor Gondek said one of the biggest surprises of her first months in office is how galvanized – and extreme – the anti-vax, so-called pro-freedom groups have been.

“I’ve said this for three months that I’ve been serving, but I’m surprised at how strong their views and movement continues to be. And I think we saw what happened in Ottawa this weekend as being more evidence of that,” she said.

“It shouldn’t surprise me, it shouldn’t shock me, but it does that these polarized, extreme views continue to take hold.”

There have been many pleasant surprises, however. Including one at a recent virtual city hall school session. It was more personal in nature.

“We were about 45 minutes into the session and one little dude came up and said, “Are you OK? Because it’s been a tough couple of years,’” the mayor recalled.

“Oh my goodness… I just want to scoop you up and say thank you. So, I said to him, ‘I’m OK. I’m about as OK as everybody is at any given time. We all know that we need to keep moving on with the things that we have to do, thank you for asking.

“That was a beautiful little surprise.”

From a political standpoint, Mayor Gondek said she’s been surprised by the willingness of federal ministers to talk about the strengths of Calgary and Alberta. She’s encouraged by the quick and productive conversations.

Challenges ahead for Calgary

The continued pandemic, the downtown revitalization and aiding the battered hospitality sector are top of mind for the mayor. 

Many of the sectors that remained strong because visitors came for the business and tourism opportunities are “absolutely decimated” the mayor said.  She’s hoping for continued federal and provincial support on those fronts.

We also asked about the appearance of a noticeable division emerging on council. Shortly after being elected, the mayor said she was excited to work with a group dedicated to moving Calgary forward in one direction.

“I think it’s important to realize that people will always come with different views and perspectives and ideologies, and we have to be respectful of that,” Mayor Gondek said.

“They were elected for a reason, and it’s representative of their constituents, for the most part.”

While the debates have been fulsome, the mayor said it’s important to note that on many big topics, council has come together for unanimous support.

The last 100 days

Mayor Gondek, interestingly, said one of the things she would change about the first 100 days is a matter of procedure. Literally.

Having the city clerk more involved in keeping the meetings moving according to their procedure bylaw, and clearly defining the process, would have helped.

The mayor intends to ramp up that aspect moving forward. They’ll be more deliberate about how they attack meeting and get business accomplished.

Overall, the mayor said the first 100 days have been a success. Hiccups are to be expected but moving forward together was a goal.

“I would qualify the first 100 days as a success because the biggest thing that I wanted to do was create a sense of collaboration in this city,” the mayor said.

She wanted city councillors, administration, stakeholders all working toward similar goals.

“So, making sure that we were having those open conversations and creating opportunities for dialogue so we can get this right,” she said.