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ThinkHQ survey shows Calgary city council approval remains low

New survey results from Calgary-based ThinkHQ show that respondents don’t think too kindly of the work being done by Calgary city council.

The survey among 1,116 randomized adult Calgarians from ThinkHQ research panel partners was conducted June 22 to 26, 2023. It’s been weighted to reflect the gender, age and region for Calgary proper based on Statistics Canada data. A typical sample of this size would have a margin of error of +/- 2.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The results show there’s still a lingering negative sentiment for both Mayor Jyoti Gondek and city council – something they’ve been unable to shake since being elected in October 2021.

The June 2023 numbers show overall that 35 per cent of survey respondents strongly or somewhat approve of the job performance of councillors. That’s equal to numbers in October 2022, but down from 37 per cent approval in March 2022.

Respondents rated their local councillor three per cent higher (42 per cent) versus 39 per cent in October 2022, but still below the 45 per cent they enjoyed in March 2022.

Mayor Gondek, who had a 38 per cent approval rating in March 2022 hasn’t been able to bump that number up, with a 36 per cent approval in June 2023.

ThinkHQ president Marc Henry said the numbers remain chronically weak for this Calgary city council. Henry, who spent years as Chief of Staff for former Calgary mayor Dave Bronconnier, said that some of it could be explained by the big council turnover in the last election and hiccups and missteps along the way.

“But it is at this stage you might expect to see some improvement – if you haven’t learned the job in 18 months, chances are you never will,” he said.

Barriers to improving job performance

Calgary city councillors have hit turbulent waters recently with the mishandling of the Housing and Affordability Task Force recommendations and the fracas over residential parking permits. Further, the ongoing struggle with public and transit safety has dogged this group of 15.

Henry said typically councillor numbers track along with the mayor’s approval. He said some councillor approval numbers are higher than the mayors, which is unusual. It points to a leadership issue, Henry said.

“The Housing and Affordability report is a good example. That tussle is entirely the mayor’s doing. The fact you had unanimous support for 90 per cent of that committees recommendations and she decided to hold them hostage because there were two controversial items that she wanted to try and pressure council into approving and they didn’t,” Henry said.

He also pointed to the recently announced downtown safety leadership table and the mayor saying that now is time for action, but then convening people for four months.

“You should have been ahead of it a year ago, 18 months ago. We’ve got to get ahead of issues instead of reacting to them and then reacting in half measures,” Henry said.

With councillors halfway through their term, many could be starting to think about a re-election bid in 2025. Henry said most of the councillors would have a relatively smooth ride to a spot in the 2025 city council – should there be no major surprises.  

The results point to southwest councillors having the lowest approval rating, along with inner city councillors. Though the results show that support tends to increase as you move from the core to the suburbs.

“The mayor’s situation is a bit more interesting. Gondek is only in her first term, and for most mayors, the first re-election campaign is the easiest,” Henry said.

“This mayor could end up the exception to this rule, however. If she plans to run again and be successful, she’ll need to find a way to connect with constituents in a manner that has eluded her so far. That maybe means taking a little water with your wine and trying to get some accomplishments where you get your council to start addressing the issues that are most important to people.”