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‘Not an easy task’: Majority disapprove of Mayor Jyoti Gondek’s early performance

Roughly four-in-10 Calgary respondents to a recent ThinkHQ survey support the work done thus far by Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

Gondek was elected on October 18, 2021, as Calgary’s first female mayor. Since then, the newest council has handled some large files. They included a substantial property tax increase with November budget adjustments, declaring a climate emergency, loss of the Calgary Flames deal and dealing with the city’s winter homeless issue and safety on Calgary Transit. 

Not to mention a lag in the handling of the Beltline protests.

The mayor received a 38 per cent approval rating in the ThinkHQ poll, compared to 53 per cent who disapprove. One in 10 are unsure how to rate the mayor’s performance.

Mayor Gondek told media Tuesday that this was a specific data point in time.

“This is a point in time where Calgarians, including myself, have been two years into the most uncertain time of our lives, and people are feeling the pressure. They’re feeling the pressure of the economy, they’re feeling the pressure of the downturn, and I think people are frustrated,” she said.

“When people get frustrated, they look to their leaders, and they express their disappointment.”

Gondek also said that if she wanted to win at a popularity contest, she would have sat and done nothing to start her term.

“I didn’t do that, because we were elected as a council with a specific mandate to do a lot of heavy work,” she said.

Comparisons to previous mayors

According to ThinkHQ president Marc Henry, the results are unusually low for a mayor this early in the first term. He pointed to prior mayor Naheed Nenshi being in the mid-eighties, while previous mayor Dave Bronconnier was in the seventies.

“The first five months of Gondek’s administration have been eventful, but perhaps not in the way a new mayor would want,” Henry said.

“The arena deal fell apart with the Flames, protests in the Beltline, a ~4% tax increase when it was supposed to be zero, etc. There are certainly circumstances outside of the mayor’s control, but others are entirely of her own making.”

Mayor Gondek said it’s also nice to have reference points like previous mayors.

“But this is not 20 years ago. It’s not 10, 11 years ago, it’s not even two years ago,” she said.

“Would I be happier if we weren’t in a pandemic and the economy was great, yeah, I’d be much happier. That’d be fantastic. But that’s not the circumstances that I ran under.”

Council approval

Of the interviewed respondents, 45 per cent said they approved of their councillors’ performance. Thirty-one per cent said they disapproved.

Council’s overall performance got 37 per cent support, while 48 per cent disapproved.

“It’s also unusual for councillors to have better approval ratings than the mayor, particularly with a Council where two-thirds are newcomers. This could be a challenge for Gondek going forward,” Henry said.

“Typically, the mayor is far better known and liked than individual councillors and that standing really does re-enforce the ‘first among equals’ relationship. Councillors, unless they truly feel strongly about an issue, are more likely to ‘go along’ with a popular mayor – give them a vote or at the very least not debate against them.”

Disapproval of council is modestly lower among younger voters, the survey indicated.

Henry said this is a rough first impression.

“Her ratings from voters today are not positive. She’s got roughly 1300 days to change that, but the initial impressions set in the first 100 days will be a headwind she has to overcome to do it,” he said.

“Not an easy task.”

The survey of 1101 adult Calgarians was done March 14 to 21, 2022. It’s weighted to reflect the gender, age and region of the Calgary population according to Statistics Canada.

This was a panel survey done through the Angus Reid forum. The margin of error for a comparable probably-based random sample of this size is 2.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.