Calgary mayor meets with business owner behind petition to recall her

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek and local business owner Landon Johnston, who launched the petition to remove her from office nearly two months ago, met for a face-to-face meeting scheduled for Friday.

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Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek and local business owner Landon Johnston, who launched the petition to remove her from office nearly two months ago, met for a face-to-face meeting scheduled for Friday.

But anyone expecting fierce words or a tense encounter between the two may have been disappointed by the content of the 20-minute meeting.

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In separate media encounters, Johnston and Gondek said their conversation was cordial and that the two even shared some common ground, despite the political differences and circumstances that led to the meeting.

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“She was very polite, very friendly,” Johnston told reporters outside the chief administrative officer’s office at City Hall. “But many politicians are, to their face.”

The conversation focused on several topics, Johnston said, including his continued frustrations over flaws in the recall legislation and what he feels is a lack of leadership and accountability shown by Gondek.

Speaking to reporters, he cited the property tax hike approved by council last fall and a proposal to change the basis of Calgary’s residential zoning district, in a bid to densify older neighborhoods, as areas of anger that he listened while gathering signatures.

“I’m fine with the conversation and the way it went,” Johnston added. “I’m just not happy with the resolution. She is still mayor, she still has two years left (in her term) if we don’t get 500,000 signatures. “It’s a long time to create a major disaster, and for a lot of people, this is a messy city.”

Landon Johnston Recall Petition
Landon Johnston, of Calgar, photographed with a stack of petition sheets, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, as part of his efforts to recall Mayor Jyoti Gondek. Brent Calver/Postmedia Archive

Petition campaign enters its final two weeks

Johnston and his volunteers have been collecting signatures since early February in a 60-day attempt to remove Gondek from office.

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Under the provincial government’s recall legislation, it would need to gather physical signatures from more than 514,000 residents by April 4 to legally recall the mayor.

He said Friday that he has counted at least 42,000 signatures so far, but has “another pile” left to count, noting there are still two weeks left before the approaching deadline.

Johnston said he recognizes the task he took on was virtually impossible and that Gondek’s job “has always been safe” given the nearly impossible threshold.

He blamed the Alberta government for introducing legislation that only gives the illusion of giving residents a voice to express their discontent with political leadership.

“This legislation was designed for elected officials to give us a crumb and say, ‘Hey, we’re trying to help you,’” he said. “This was never designed for them to ever lose power. Why would anyone in power want to make it easier for you to not be in power?

A Gondek withdrawal sign
A petition sign to recall Mayor Jyoti Gondek was photographed in Parkdale on Wednesday, March 20, 2024. Gavin Young/Postmedia

The mayor promotes the ‘compassion’ of the creator of the petition for those who fight

Outside council chambers, Gondek said she and Johnston agree Calgary faces an affordability crisis.

He noted that Johnston raised concerns during their conversation about Calgarians who are on the verge of losing their homes, and felt that some of the council’s recent decisions have exacerbated people’s financial struggles.

“Landon’s compassion for people who find themselves in impossible situations (families who may be homeless and homeless people) (shows) that this is someone who is compassionate, and he actually started a petition to raise awareness about the issues that he thought were happening. I had the advice. I hadn’t boarded,” he said.

“I had a good opportunity to explain to him the investments we are making and the types of things we are doing to not only address housing but also public safety. “It was an important conversation with someone who is very frustrated.”

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“I don’t care who they are,” Johnston says of Project YYC

In the background of Friday’s conversation emerged a recent public revelation that a group has hijacked Johnston’s petition drive.

Dubbed Project YYC, the group appears to include conservative advocates and former political campaign managers. In a document that circulated on social media earlier this week, the group stated that its mission is to create a grand coalition to elect a “common sense conservative” mayor and council in 2025.

The group cited its affiliation with Johnston’s initiative in the same document, referring to it as the “official petition.”

Billboard ads promoting the recall campaign are attributed to the YYC Project, which also has a website separate from Johnston’s to promote the petition.

Johnston acknowledged that the people behind the YYC Project reached out to him and said they could help him collect signatures. He said he gave them $3,000 from donations he received through his official petition campaign website.

“They said they could get me signatures, so I said, ‘Okay, if you can do it by the books, here’s some money,'” he said. “They went out and got signatures and billboards, which helped me get a lot of signatures.

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“As long as they do it by the rules, I don’t care who they are.

He denied formal association with the YYC Project, but said he is willing to work with anyone who is willing to legally obtain signatures for his cause.

Based on his meeting with Johnston, Gondek said he believes he intended to run a grassroots campaign, which was ultimately infiltrated by a group with ulterior political motives.

“He firmly believed that he had a tool, offered to him through legislation, with which he could at least make a statement, if not make a change,” she said.

“That’s really what he believed and I honestly believe that was his intention. I also think that now he has seen a lot of people who are trying to take away his autonomy to do this the way he wants, and I think that has him incredibly frustrated.”

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