‘2 to 1’: Calgary mayor-elect Gondek will be bolstered by majority-progressive council, say pundits

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‘2 to 1’: Calgary mayor-elect Gondek will be bolstered by majority-progressive council, say pundits

October 19, 2021 Sigma Mist 0

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Calgary city hall  watchers anticipate a more cohesive city council following Monday’s vote, with many newly elected councillors sharing priorities with mayor-elect Jyoti Gondek.

One pollster estimates progressive-leaning councillors outnumber conservative-leaning candidates by roughly two to one, and others see an opportunity for Gondek to quickly push forward on key priorities such as COVID-19 response and infrastructure investments.

“What I think it is for mayor-elect Gondek, is a great starting point,” campaign strategist Zain Velji told CBC Calgary’s News at 11.

“She’s got six to seven solid votes on most things she wants and if she runs her office like a political office she can sway three to five more.”

Velji previously worked on Naheed Neshi’s campaign.

Looking at those leading or elected, it’s clear this council will also have more women and candidates who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) than recent councils. It has only three incumbents but the mayor and two new councillors have previous council experience. 

CBC News talked with with several community leaders, strategists and pundits as the final votes were counted. Here’s what they had to say.

Former Ward 3 city councillor Jyoti Gondek, shown giving her victory speech Monday night, will be Calgary’s next mayor. Gondek, who has a PhD in urban sociology, worked in consulting and led the Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business before entering politics. (Radio-Canada)

A progressive-leaning council

There are no party affiliations in municipal politics. But based on each winner’s platforms and endorsements, pollster Janet Brown says she sees a fairly left-leaning council.  

“On balance, I think we’ve got more progressive councillors than we do conservative councillors, maybe by a two-to-one margin,” said Brown. “That will be good very news for Gondek because this will be an easier council for her to wrangle and get on side with her priorities.”

Gondek won with more support than any of the polls predicted. She had 45 per cent of the vote with 256 of 259 polls reporting. But that didn’t surprise Brown.

“As soon as the results started coming in, I sort of laughed at myself and I thought: ‘You know, this happens election after election.’ We think it’s going to be a close race … but Calgary doesn’t really have a history of electing conservative mayors.”

The political action group Lead Calgary endorsed candidates whose platforms prioritized cutting property taxes and restoring fiscal responsibility. That includes winners Dan McLean (Ward 13), Peter Demong (Ward 14), Andre Chabot (Ward 10), Terry Wong (Ward 7) and Sean Chu (Ward 4).

It will be a mixed council that represents the political diversity of Calgary, added Velji, saying the actual vote split will likely shift from issue to issue. But Gondek is also hard to paint as either right or left.

“We really don’t know how she lands on certain things.”

WATCH | Hear what CBC Calgary’s political panel had to say about last night’s election.

CBC Calgary’s political panel breaks down the vote

CBC Calgary’s political panel included Maclean’s Jason Markusoff, political strategist Zain Velji, and pollster Janet Brown to discuss last night’s election. 12:27

Newcomers but with experience  

“I heard a lot of people saying they really wanted change, and I think that’s what we’re seeing now,” said David Hartwick, a longtime volunteer with the Northern Hills Community Association.

In the ward races, voters turfed two incumbents and other races were close. Joe Magliocca and Diane Colley-Urquhart each lost, coming third in their races, while Gian-Carlo Carra squeaked in a win by just 152 votes.

Ward 4 incumbent Sean Chu, who has served as a city councillor since 2013, led his closest rival DJ Kelly by a margin of 706 votes with 28/30 stations reporting as of 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, according to Elections Calgary.

But Hartwick says those worried about a loss of institutional memory should take heart. Gondek is not a newcomer and two of the newly elected councillors have council experience. Newcomers Andre Chabot and Richard Pootmans have five previous terms on council between them. 

Out-going councillor Shane Keating was quite worried about the high turnover. But not Monday night.

“I’ve very excited and extremely happy,” he said, looking at the results.

“You know, we’ve seen four years of this picking and snipping,” he said. “I’ve always said that if you get the right people, it doesn’t matter of political affiliations. I think you’re going to have a great council coming forward.… We have individuals who have master’s degrees. We have individuals who are who are educators, engineers or have another master’s degree in administration.”

Keating will be replaced in Ward 12 by Evan Spencer, who previously worked in his constituency office.

Making history 

Calgary’s new council will have six women compared with three on the previous council.

“That’s obviously not parity but it’s a whole lot better than we’ve done in recent past. At present, six of 15 are racialized Calgarians. That’s a high water mark for a city that has a pretty big history of electing only white people,” Maclean’s correspondent Jason Markusoff said on News at 11.

Gondek’s parents immigrated from Punjab, India. Edmonton also elected a mayor of south Asian descent in Amarjeet Sohi, who was a former councillor and a former cabinet minister.

Anila Lee Yuen, who grew up in Calgary as a child of south Asian parents, says that’s a big deal for young people who need to see themselves in community leaders. 

“Twelve-year-old me, my eyes would be just bulging out of my head right now because they look like me,” said Lee Yuen. “The leaders of our province — our mayors look like me.… They grew up with similar cultural context as I did, and I never thought that that would happen when I was 12. And they’ve got good policy.”

Gondek is also Calgary’s first female mayor.

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