Mayor Jyoti Gondek reflects on rocky first 100 days in office

Despite the setbacks, the new mayor has so far been able to achieve her legislative aims

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In early November, fresh from a decisive victory at the polls, Mayor Jyoti Gondek chalked up a significant win on council with a landslide vote supporting her bid to declare a climate emergency in Calgary. Meanwhile, outside city hall, the new mayor’s message of an inclusive economic recovery found fans and skeptics.


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This week, as she marks her first 100 days in office, the confidence and optimism that characterized the first weeks following her historic swearing-in as Calgary’s first female mayor on Oct. 25 have dissipated somewhat.

In its place is a wariness left over from having protesters turn up at her family’s home to complain about COVID-19 public health measures. Gondek has also grown more subdued since the bruising collapse of Calgary’s $600-million arena deal in December that saw media and political critics blame the mayor for the agreement’s sudden dissolution.

“There’s been some surprises along the way,” Gondek told Postmedia this week.

The Scotiabank Saddledome was photographed on Wednesday, January 12, 2022.
The Scotiabank Saddledome was photographed on Wednesday, January 12, 2022. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

But she said she’s encouraged by the way the new council — largely made up of political rookies — is settling in and working together. Last year’s election saw an exodus of incumbents, but Gondek said the loss of institutional knowledge also brought fresh perspectives from people willing to “challenge the norm.”


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“I think it was that early level-setting of building relationships that’s allowed us to respond to many of the things that have been happening.”

While the dust has mostly settled around the failed arena deal, Gondek said she understands that the mayor can become the “go-to target.” But she’s maintained since the sudden demise of the agreement in December that there were factors simply beyond the city’s control.

“It seemed that without the ability to lay blame, people couldn’t get their head around what had happened,” she said.

“We were not in any kind of negotiation. So the mayor did not blow a negotiation. This was a situation, if we look at it rationally, where cost increases were preventing this project from moving forward the way that it had been anticipated in summer of last year.”


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‘My approach is my own’

Despite the setbacks, the new mayor has so far been able to achieve her legislative aims. Gondek’s view has prevailed in nearly every significant council vote since the election (with one notable exception: during budget talks, the mayor voted against a funding boost requested by the police, which was ultimately passed by a majority of council).

The numbers on council have also been in Gondek’s favour.

The October election shifted the balance of power on council in a progressive direction and, as a result, the majority of councillors have fallen in behind the mayor on nearly everything from passing the 2022 city budget with a four per cent tax hike to backing a proposal to challenge Quebec’s Bill 21.


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Former city councillor and Calgary Skyview MP George Chahal said while he isn’t privy to the internal workings of city hall these days, he suspects Gondek may be more focused on “reining in” council and keeping them on track than her predecessor, Naheed Nenshi, who had a reputation for letting things “play out” on the floor of council.

“I think there’s probably a bit more conversation on strategic planning, on agenda-building, on what (ideas) you’re bringing and when you’re bringing it (and) knowing you have the support,” Chahal said. “That’s politics. (That’s) managing your timing and scheduling of big initiatives so you get those wins.

“And knowing your council is extremely important to be able to do that.”


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Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, now in his fourth term as a city councillor, said he sees a “definite” shift in leadership style with Gondek in the mayor’s chair.

“I would sort of suggest that what Jyoti Gondek is attempting to do and be — and what she’s, I think, so far accomplishing — is the best possible mix of what Naheed (Nenshi) brought to the table and what his predecessor Dave Bronconnier brought to the table.”

Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra during a council meeting on Monday, November 15, 2021.
Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra during a council meeting on Monday, November 15, 2021. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

When asked, Gondek brushes off any comparison between herself and the former mayor.

“My approach is my own and I like to be up front with people when it comes to anything that I want to bring,” she said.

“I would hope that they would do the same thing for things that they want to bring forward so that we’re all at least engaging on something, and it’s not a surprise when you get to executive committee or to council.”


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The year ahead

What remains to be seen is what kind of consensus emerges from council’s strategic discussions about the city’s next four-year budget — discussions in which the mayor’s chief of staff, Stephen Carter, was credited with playing a significant role.

Then, on Wednesday, just barely past the 100-day mark, city hall was rocked by the news that Carter had been abruptly dismissed.  The veteran political strategist had been a powerful presence who also occasionally ruffled some feathers on council while marshalling support for the mayor’s agenda.

Carter had also recently run into trouble for his public statements. The former chief of staff was forced to walk back comments he made on Twitter in early January in response to concerns raised about unhoused Calgarians sleeping in tents during a cold snap.


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And a statement Carter made that was published by Postmedia Calgary columnist Licia Corbella — that appeared to assign some blame for the arena deal’s collapse to Nenshi — was immediately disavowed by Gondek, who said she was “incredibly disappointed that my chief of staff would make a comment that this is the old mayor’s fault. It’s not.”

But if it has been a trying first 100 days for the new mayor, even some of her most consistent critics sound optimistic about her abilities as a leader.

“She’s intelligent. She knows a lot about planning principles,” said Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot.

Chabot, who has now served under three mayors on council, said the new mayor has so far done a “good job” of trying to make sure everyone on council is heard.

“I do believe that the future is going to be good with this mayor, and we just need to figure out a way to get past some of these early challenges and move forward,” Chabot said.
Twitter: @mpotkins
Twitter: @meksmith



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