Year end interview with Mayor Jyoti Gondek

Calgary –

CTV News anchor Tara Nelson sat down with mayor Jyoti Gondek to talk about her post-pandemic vision for the city in her year end interview. This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Q: What has the transition from councilor to mayor been like?

JG: It’s been exciting. We’re wrapping up week five of being a brand new council. It’s been a bit of a blur in some ways, but when I reflect back on what this council has been able to accomplish in a short time, we’ve done some incredible work. I’m just so excited to have the team with me.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about this council, because it’s so green?

JG: Well it’s an interesting dynamic because you’ve got three of us coming back from last term, so we have some habits and perspectives that are embedded and we’ve been challenged by on them, which is really good to see. Then we’ve got two members of council that served on previous councils that still have some ideas on what used to work and how things could be different.

So there’s five of us that have a little experience and then the other 10 come to us with various forms of experience. Many people have served on city commissions and boards and working groups so there’s a lot of talent coming to us that has had some dealings with city. We’ve got some people who have been invested with community-based organizations – so we’ve just got a diversity of experiences and passion and it’s been amazing to see how all the things connect and make some decisions.

Q: Sean Chu. You believe he should step down. He won’t. The province says no. Where does that leave you?

JG: It was incredibly disappointing that on the day we should have been celebrating our own swearing-in, we had this shadow cast over us. I continue to encourage this councillor to step down. It is disappointing he has not yet done so. I continue to work with the provincial government to try to outline ways we could deal with the situation. In my opinion, calling for a bylaw change, given that the Friday before the election, the information released was incredibly material to voters. I believe that a by-election would be the way to go.

Q: What has this been like for everyone, having a councillor there that the majority of other councilors don’t want there?

JG: It’s terrible. It’s a terrible environment to have to operate in, and yet, we proceed.

Q: The city’s 2022 budget adjustment including more money for police, which created a property tax increase of 3.87 per cent. A lot of taxpayers would say while that’s not huge, in this climate any increase is too big. How do you justify the end result to taxpayers?

JG: I would say the taxpayers should recognize there’s a couple things at play: what we did was increase the operating budget, and we did it in a way that was sensitive towards taxpayers. We tried to get some one-time money in place, we tried to make sure the full burden of responsibility was not borne by taxpayers. The market-based assessment is the thing we really need to challenge and change. That’s the thing that makes it unfair to people who are on a limited or fixed income, who have a property that’s worth far more than the income they generate.

That’s a difficult situation for people, particularly for seniors who are in established areas of the city where we are using their wealth of property as a property for tax. That’s a system we need to change, but I can tell you that Calgarians asked us to make sure their fire department is strong. They have asked us to make sure that we’re serving people in positions of vulnerability – and that’s what this budget reflects: caring for people in incredibly different situations and difficult situations than we’ve seen in the past.

Q: Council voted this fall to declare a climate emergency. Can you explain what that really means and what does that declaration do?

JG: The climate emergency declaration we brought forward to council shows not only Calgarians but also to the world that we take this seriously. We have an industry in our city – the energy industry – that has made a commitment to net zero (emissions) by 2050. There’s even a group of oil sands companies that have committed pathways to net zero. We as a city will be hosting the World Petroleum Congress in 2023. The topic is Pathways to Net Zero. When everyone around us in the private sector has made commitments to net zero, it was a bit frustrating that our city had not joined forces with them. So in step with the private sector and in many other cities, we declared a climate emergency, to show we are serious about this – and frankly, to attract a lot of capital that’s available globally for cities that are taking the lead on this.

Q: You want to secure Calgary’s position as an ‘energy transition leader’. What are we doing so far?

JG: I can tell you that a lot of our corporate headquarters are doing work in carbon removal, in looking at different forms of energy production. I can tell you that we have a Centre for Energy Transition located right in the heart of downtown. We have got a program that’s competitive between teams to do carbon removal, so there’s all kinds of great work being done in our city and we just haven’t told that story. I’d like to make sure there’s an opportunity for energy transition leaders to talk about how we have changed and how we are looking at sustainability and greener and cleaner solutions to energy production.

Q: How do we bring downtown back to life?

JG: One of the things you have to remember about downtown is Calgary was caught up in a time where we were focusing on offices and the types of land uses that support offices – and so to change those office spaces to anything else required a regulatory shift, and that’s where we tried some new things. We’re allowing for permits to be allowed quicker, to have some different uses downtown, where you could have a barber shop or pet care facility or childcare facility and we have to be even more nimble now, and responsive to the market so we have invested as a city $200 million during the last term of council to do a downtown revitalization that would see a beautification and improvement of Arts Commons, as one of the key components of our downtown.

We also dedicated $45 million towards an incentive program for converting some of those vacant spaces and this council dedicated an additional $55 million towards that type of incentive program – so as a city, we have invested a quarter of a billion dollars in ourselves to demonstrate to the world that we will recover and we have seen a follow on effect: that initial $45 million has been oversubscribed. We are seeing an interest in our city again because we showed people a plan.

With files from CTV’s Tara Nelson

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