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‘Don’t pine for glory days’: Mayor Jyoti Gondek looks back at 2022, ahead to 2023

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said 2022 was a year of both successes and challenges; it was an interesting year, she said.

Mayor Gondek talked with LWC about the past year in a 2022 year-end interview (full interview available for LiveWire Calgary Patreon members) done in mid-December.

“I would say it’s been a year where we demonstrated as that council that it is possible to have ideological differences and different perspectives and still engage in some pretty civil discourse,” the mayor said.

Mayor Gondek also said she believes that emerging from the pandemic Calgary has changed. She said it’s given the city – and citizens – a new appreciation for who we all are.

“I say that in a very philosophical way. I think all of us had to contend with our own mental well-being,” she said.

“I think our loved ones went through a lot. I think it highlighted the places that we hadn’t taken care of ourselves.”

The mayor said it also showed the need to be stronger as families and as a community.  She said she saw a kinder, more compassionate side of the city, leaving her with optimism moving forward.

Mayor Gondek noted the commitment to the downtown strategy, office conversions, the commitment to climate change investment and making childcare spaces safer were some of the highlights for 2022.

Pandemic recovery still holds the city back, she said. Transit struggles – and the inability to swiftly return to pre-pandemic service levels is a problem. Social disorder and mental health, addictions and homeless situations remain issues for Calgary, she said.

Personnel issues on Calgary city council

After the 2021 election, Calgary city council found itself knee-deep in issues around Coun. Sean Chu. Those continued throughout 2022, with the surfacing of an incident where Chu photographed the mayor’s licence plate in a secured parking garage.  Chu apologized, had to take ethics training, and was stripped of deputy mayor duties.

Further, Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean faced a situation where he was purportedly seen in a video that showed others mocking Indigenous people. He later apologized and was also sent for ethics and sensitivity training. Later, McLean would deal with an Elections Alberta fine for an event he held prior to the 2021 election.

To top it off, Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, who had already been sanctioned for social media remarks he’d made, was formally charged with mischief in an alleged road rage incident.

In this year’s Citizen Satisfaction Survey 49 per cent of Calgarians said they trusted the city (in line with previous years). In November, a ThinkHQ survey showed that the performance of councillors was rated near 10-year lows.

Mayor Gondek said that the work before council is big and heavy. It’s going to take four years to lay a foundation for future success, she said.

The mayor said that more than ever before, councillors have to be aware of their surroundings and their responses measured.

“We are in the public eye in a way that no one’s ever seen before,” she said.

In addressing the trust and performance issues, Mayor Gondek said that coming out of a pandemic with an economic recession on top of it, people are feeling the pain.

“People look to leaders to help fix things, and this is going to take us a while to get right in terms of setting the ship on where the city needs to go,” she said.

“And so, people are speaking up about their disappointment.”

Public safety and handling the city’s social disorder

The mayor said that communication with the public needs to improve on public safety matters. It’s been an issue that’s been on council’s radar for more than a year. Particularly around transit stations. The most recent city action involved the removal of doors from Chinook LRT Station shelters to prevent congregation.

Incidents are playing out in real-time and citizens are letting them know these things are happening. The mayor said people want to see the city is responding to it.

“I think that’s been a learning for this administration,” Mayor Gondek said.

“If you see something happening, it’s important to communicate quickly with the public and let them know that you have seen it, too, and this is how you’re responding and this is how you’re reacting,” she said.

An effort must also be made to let Calgarians know what has been done – more transit officers, better surveillance, better support for unhoused Calgarians – to improve safety, the mayor said.

She also recognized the collaboration with Calgary police to divert social calls and crisis response.

“The ability to dispatch a mobile crisis response team and ensure that the right service provider is there with the police service has been an important shift and change in how they work,” Mayor Gondek said.

While enforcement is one thing, we asked how the city is handling root-cause issues.

The mayor said the response must be intersectional. It requires integration from all levels of government because the supports are dispersed among different departments.

“I think we’ve learned that because the problems are so complex, our responses need to be more integrated,” she said.

‘I’m happy with the outcome’: Mayor Gondek on 2023-2026 budget

The mayor said that the recent four-year budget addressed some shortfalls and helped several different partner organizations. For the most part, however, it wasn’t transformational.

“That was the direction that council essentially gave to administration was maintenance, keep it whole, keep it together, adjust for inflation and population growth and just leave it at that,” Mayor Gondek said.

The budget stuck with the commitment to keep revenue growth required from property tax at a level consistent with inflation and population growth. Calgary’s typical single-family homeowner will see a property tax increase of about $10 per month in 2023 – and beyond.

The budget process demonstrated that they can work together to get things done in a methodical manner, the mayor said.

“Decision time was very methodical, and that’s important. That shows good governance and it shows effectiveness of decision-making,” Mayor Gondek said.

This first four-year budget was a challenging one, particularly with a mostly first-term council, she said.

“I would say that in the first year of a brand-new council, to take our strategic priorities and try to turn them into dollars was an exercise in realizing how difficult it is to be all the things you need to be,” Mayor Gondek said.

Future budgets may have a different feel, the mayor said. Coun. Jasmine Mian put forth a plan to build the budget in an ongoing process with city administration.

“I believe we will be much more successful in building the right budget for the times if administration and council are engaged with each other more frequently, more meaningfully over the course of the year,” the mayor said.

A look at 2023

Mayor Gondek said that seeing some of the work they’ve done start to bear fruit is a plus for 2023.

Affordable housing work, mobility network investments and moving closer to the 50/50 development goals through policy will be things to watch, the mayor said.

The movie industry has been a big boon for Calgary. The mayor mentioned the Last of Us project that wrapped filming in Calgary and area during 2023 and their film trip to LA.

It’s big for WestJet to make Calgary its major hub, she said.

“There’s confidence in the market that we will do well, but we just need to keep delivering our own story,” Mayor Gondek said.

However, therein lies the pitfall.

Calgarians are the only ones holding themselves back, the mayor said.  For a while, she said we were our own worst enemy.

“Remember how mopey we were about, ‘ohhhh, it’s never gonna come back,’” she said.

People were comparing Calgary to a hollowed-out Detroit. They were saying this would be the worst recession ever, she said.  

“Stop saying stuff like that. Just get up there and say, ‘all right, it’s time to transform who we are. It’s time to go after different types of business. It’s time to figure out how we do things differently,’” Mayor Gondek said.

“Don’t pine for glory days. Focus instead on how those glory days progressed you into a new future.”