Calgary’s municipal government looks very different this Tuesday, as more than half of the city’s councilors are new.
Monday’s election saw the highest turnover of any civic election in Calgary’s history, and both city council newcomers and incumbents have a new and somewhat rocky landscape to navigate.
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In addition to figuring out the logistics of where they are going and who they talk to, the new cohort of councilors will have to start working on important issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and upcoming budget deliberations, which get underway on an issue. . weeks.
So what challenges does the new city hall face in the weeks, months and years to come?
Strengthening relations with the province
One of the first priorities of this new government will be to address its relationship with the provincial government, which has faltered during the course of the pandemic.
“Forge those relationships, look around the council table and think, who among us is best equipped to interact with the provincial government, to advocate on behalf of the municipality with the provincial government? – That’s going to be a challenge, ”said University of Calgary political scientist Jack Lucas.
“In normal times, I think you could relax a bit on that.”
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However, University of Calgary political commentator and researcher Jason Ribeiro said there are opportunities to seize with the provincial government at this time, because “the PCU needs a victory.”
“If the new liaisons from the council or the executive committee or the new mayor can strike a very leveraged balance between, not just what is right, but what might also be politically advantageous for the PCU, I think as long as it serves Calgary, he will begin to see that those cards are played, ”he said.
Economy and the ghost town downtown
The new council will also face the struggling economy very quickly and will have to take a hard look at the downtown vacancy rate, property taxes, as well as overcome and eventually recover from COVID-19.
“I would say that the economy and the challenges that we faced before COVID, but certainly after COVID, with the kind of downtown restoration, are incredibly important and the solutions are not simple,” said outgoing Coun. Druh Farrell said.
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Lucas said the “extraordinary commercial vacancy rate” in the city center has created a “huge fiscal hole right in the heart” of the operating budget, which will need to be addressed in a few weeks.
The council will also inherit the financial implications of decisions made by previous councils on major initiatives such as the expansion of the Green Line LRT, the new event center and the allocation of police funds.
“I would suggest: fall in love with the problem, see opportunities there and find solutions that help build a stronger society,” Farrell said.
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Unity on the council was a problem that plagued the previous Calgary government, with council members striking each other and political infighting made the headlines on several occasions.
According to Ribeiro, Calgary’s new mayor will have to set the tone early on on how she expects councilors to behave both inside and outside the council chambers.
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“That tone is not just about … representing all Calgarians,” Ribeiro said. “The priority of any mayor, once elected, is to immediately dispel some of the campaign tactics, immediately dispel some of the jousting that occurred between the candidates, and really focus again on being a mayor for all Calgarians.”
Lucas added councilors and the mayor will need to determine what are the top priorities on the agenda for individual councilors and the government as a whole.
“An initial challenge for this group will be: What does it matter to all of us? What priorities do we share that we can move forward quickly on? And what kinds of policy areas will be more difficult and perhaps a little more contentious? ” he said.
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After a couple of years of active civic engagement in the form of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, student strikes over climate change, and protests over the COVID-19 vaccine, Ribeiro said the new council will also have to consider the fact that the political participation is important. “At the poles of the electoral cycle,” and Calgarians are, to a large extent, divided.
“How … to stop appealing to that polarity now that the campaign is over and dragging them into the medium while also rekindling the interest of the medium in civic issues is going to be a very, very difficult task, given that all the engagement right now is happening at the poles, ”he said.
The new mayor has ‘massive’ shoes to fill
Calgary’s new mayor will take over the presidency from Naheed Nenshi, a high-profile, well-known and respected leader who forged relationships with other leaders from the province, the country and the world.
Lucas said Gondek also “has great shoes to fill and a real responsibility” when it comes to fostering a council that works together effectively.
“When it comes down to it, it’s just one vote. But the mayor has many important responsibilities in addition to casting a vote, and one of them is to build, help, and work to establish the kind of culture for how city council meetings will play out, ”Lucas said.
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Considering that Gondek was a former councilor, Ribeiro said the shoes worn in city hall “will fit his experience enough” to start working.
“Outside the council horseshoe, both in the community and outside of Calgary, representing our interests to the masses, those shoes are huge and not just for this mayor and this election, but for any mayor who comes after (Nenshi).” , said. .
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Ribeiro said the new mayor will have to have “very tough skin and discipline,” and be able to “lower the temperature” and make sure the focus is on making changes in the city.
Shaping Calgary for ‘a decade or more’
According to Lucas, historically, 90 percent of city councilors in Canada will be re-elected, which means that this new council can last for more than one term.
“We are not just electing a council for a term. In a way, we are electing a council that will shape the political agenda of the city for possibly two or three terms or more, ”he said.
“Because if it continues to be the case that incumbents, once elected, tend to get re-elected, and if it is the case that these councilors want to stay for a while, this time we really have a chance to shape things. will search, possibly for a decade or more. “
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Ribeiro said the new council has the opportunity to bring the diverse backgrounds of the newcomers to the city hall and draw on their lived experience in carrying out the council’s functions.
“These are people who have given their time,” he said. “These are people who have been active in the community who seem incredibly competent on the issues, and they are bringing with them the experience, the perspective and I think potentially even the ability to tell stories to add to the story that has been lost for decades. . “
‘Historical’ diversity problems
With the Calgarians electing multiple women and candidates from diverse backgrounds, all three election observers are optimistic about what that means for the future of the city.
“This could be historic by the very nature of not only changing the makeup of the council, but bringing not only skills (but also) experiences together to the table,” Ribeiro said.
The new council could bring wealth and perspective, he said. “I think it will pay off … in its first year and in the long run.”
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A more diverse council is something Farrell said he would have loved to see in his time at City Hall.
“Something that I would have dreamed of as a board member is to have more balance and diversity around gender, culture, race and background,” she said.
“I think Calgary has a bright future. I hope people recognize that opportunity and commit. “
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