Calgary’s one-year-old city council is getting a rough ride in a new survey from ThinkHQ Public Affairs.
Only slightly more (39 per cent) of survey respondents said they had a favourable view of their ward councillor, compared to 35 per cent that disapprove. City council overall gets approval from 35 per cent, while 50 per cent disapprove.
This was an online survey of 1,172 adult Calgarians conducted from Oct. 17 to 20. The panel source was the Angus Reid online forum. It’s been weighted to reflect gender, age, and region of Calgary population according to Statistics Canada.
A randomized, stratified sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.8 per cent.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek also saw her numbers reach a low after one year in office. Gondek received approval from 35 per cent of panelists, while 55 per cent of survey respondents disapproved. Gondek’s drop is three points from the spring of this year.
The results show that Mayor Gondek is seen less favourably as ages rise along with the distance from the city centre.
“These ratings of City Council are not good. In fact, we’ve never seen public sentiment towards mayor and councillors at these levels in Calgary before,” said ThinkHQ president Marc Henry.
“It’s been a bumpy year for Council. They’ve had some challenging issues to contend with, and don’t seem to really have their ‘sea legs’ yet as far as most Calgarians are concerned.”
Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp said results like this are never easy to absorb. She said there’s work ahead to bolster them.
“I’ll be honest, we’ve got to start parking the drama at the side and do our job. And that’s governing,” Sharp said.
“It’s not something that we should be proud of, that’s for sure. It doesn’t mean we’re not listening to Calgarians.”
Sharp said that perhaps there are some councillors not faring as well as others, and more specific ward information might give them an inroad to working with those members.
Multiple issues for council
Henry said there have been a handful of issues that have dogged council over the past year.
He said a tax increase last year, the arena deal falling apart, a climate emergency declaration and other scandals like Coun. Sean Chu and recently Ward 13’s Dan McLean, could be weighing on the numbers.
“At this stage we have a majority of voters who feel Council is not focusing on the issues that most matter to them – issues like public safety, cost of living and taxes, community development and so on … there’s definitely a disconnect between many voters and this Council,” Henry said.
Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian said that the public’s perception might be shaped around a handful of items.
“I think certainly the extracurricular personal issues that are going on with certain individuals, of course, it’s going to affect the public’s perception. It affects my perception and it’s hard to deal with,” Mian said.
Mian said that trust in institutions is low right now. She said it’s a challenging inflection point in our democracy.
“I think we do have a challenge in government more broadly, which is that I think we have to be able to say, ‘You know what, we haven’t done the best job in the eyes of the public,'” she said.
“We have to endeavour to do better and that is always going to be the case.”
1,000 days to raise the approval
Local councillor approval was highest in both the SW and NW quadrants of Calgary, with each area hitting 41 per cent approval. Approval of council overall was highest in the northeast.
It’s an uphill climb from here, Henry said. It starts with Calgary’s four-year budget. That recently laid out an average 3.7 per cent annual tax increase to keep up with population and inflation.
“There are going to be bumps, and they’ve only been on the job for a little more than a year. But the next civic election is only a little more than 1,000 days away, and Mayor Gondek and councillors will want to try to turn these ratings around – re-election would be very challenging if public sentiment continues to be this negative,” he said.
Mian said city council – and the city in general – needs to do a better job of telling people about the good things going on in Calgary. She said controversy always sells in media.
Work on the downtown revitalization, the BMO Centre expansion, the Green Line – these are good news stories, she said.
“I think that what citizens ended up hearing is not always the most positive stuff, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot of positive stuff out there,” Mian said.
“I think we have a big task ahead of us to tell the story of the great work that is happening.”