Mayor Jyoti Gondek talks protests, EMS dispatch and the relationship with the province

·8 min read
Jyoti Gondek, pictured here in October, spoke to CBC Calgary's editorial board on Monday to discuss a number of key issues facing the city and council. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Jyoti Gondek, pictured here in October, spoke to CBC Calgary's editorial board on Monday to discuss a number of key issues facing the city and council. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

It's been a whirlwind few months for Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, who made history last fall in becoming the city's first woman to hold the role.

There's been no shortage of challenges since: the collapse of the new arena deal, a tough budget that led to a near four per cent property tax hike, and the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.

She's also received national attention for her campaign pledge to declare a climate emergency, which city council voted to do in November.

On Monday, Gondek held a virtual meeting with CBC Calgary's editorial board to talk about some of the issues the city is facing.

The discussion included her concerns with the protests that targeted the homes of politicians.

She also spoke about the Alberta government's announcement Monday that it will begin the process of reviewing the province-wide ambulance dispatch system next month.

Several municipalities, including the City of Calgary, have opposed the move to consolidate EMS dispatch, which happened nearly a year ago, concerned it would cause delays in coordinated responses to 911 calls.

Some councils welcomed the news of a review, but Gondek expressed disappointment with how it's being handled.

The following question-and-answer includes excerpts from that discussion, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Today's announcement on EMS from the provincial government, they mentioned they're going to put out an RFP [a request for proposals] to conduct a third-party review of Alberta's province-wide EMS dispatch system. What's your initial response to today's news release from the government?

Answer: "I would say probably within the last half hour or so, when all of you saw the release from the provincial government is when I saw it. Certainly would have been nice to have been part of the conversation leading up to this. But as we learn at 3:30 on various days what it is that's happening in our province when it comes to our public safety and public health, I guess that's how we're going to find out about EMS service."

"I'm disappointed that instead of engaging with cities and professionals that deliver frontline service, they're taking it to a third-party review. We had long warned this government that getting rid of the dispatch system we had that was globally recognized for its ability to integrate service and provide great service that it would be devastating to Albertans and it has been. And so now to go to a third party instead of coming back and talking to the stakeholders who could have told them what was wrong? Disappointing. Don't feel like a partner at the table on this. I'm happy to see that there are so many great quotes from people representing municipalities [in the press release]. But as one of the largest metropolitan centres, I would have thought that there would be more engagement."


Q: With protests outside of the homes of politicians, do we need specific measures that can be enforced by the Calgary Police Service to address this? It's happening over and over and over again. So, it's reasonable to conclude that the right tools don't exist currently to deal with it.

A: "There is the opportunity for the provincial government to include the homes of elected officials. But then where does it stop because this seems to be spreading everywhere. We know that health care workers were targeted as well. And so where does it stop? I think not being able to hold a protest outside anyone's personal residence is probably the ideal solution. And working with Calgary Police Service, they're incredibly responsive to situations like this. But, you know, if we have the ability to show them on a camera that this is who was at my home and there's any kind of a link toward something that's more dangerous then, you know, I think we're doing ourselves a better service than just turning away from it."

Q: What would you want the provincial government to do? Are you talking about a need for additional legislation, or the amendment of existing legislation, to allow for a more effective response from authorities like Calgary police?

A: "There is the ability to amend existing legislation. I do think it's something that our provincial partners need to look at because this doesn't just apply to local councilors, it's happening at the homes of ministers. We saw it happen at the home of the Member of Parliament yesterday. It's just wrong and we need to take stronger measures against this."

Mike Symington/CBC
Mike Symington/CBC

Q: Your predecessor [Naheed Nenshi] had a famously tense relationship with the province. What's your relationship been like with them for the last four months?

A: "It's an interesting perspective that Mayor Nenshi had a tense relationship. I would say all of council had a relatively tense relationship, probably for the 18 months we were trying to deal with the pandemic. I don't know how much more tenuous that situation could have been. And the mayor, as our chief elected officer at the time, sort of took it on the chin for many of those things. For me, personally, I'm trying to do the right thing and reach out to ministers as I can, to ensure that the interests of our citizens are represented."

"I can tell you that most of the meetings I've had, we've really held a lot of common beliefs and views. I met with [Labour] Minister [Tyler] Shandro last week, and we talked about the strength of being an inclusive society so we can be a strong immigrant-receiving city to improve our labour force participation. We talked about ideas on how to make Calgary be more welcoming for newcomers. Had a great meeting with [Jobs, Economy and Innovation] Minister [Doug] Schweitzer. We've talked about the strength of our economy if we really start to invest in technology and innovation. You know, it's been really good conversations. So I will keep meeting with people as I need to and advancing what it is that we need."

Q: How does the oilpatch respond to you?

A: "The energy sector was really interested in understanding what our climate declaration meant, and we had an energy leaders breakfast the day that we were debating the declaration. And I can tell you that there was a lot of relief in the room that the city had finally caught up with where the sector has been for years. So you have [the Oil Sands] Pathways to Net Zero. ... You have such a commitment to corporate social responsibility and ESG among all of the major oil and gas companies. And they had never really considered the municipal government as a partner until we stepped up and said, 'You know, we need to do better. You are committing to net zero by 2050. We should be moving toward the same thing.' And so it was an incredibly positive conversation and it continues to be."

City of Calgary
City of Calgary

Q: If we could talk about the failed arena deal. Are you able to give any update at this point on efforts to find new partners? Is there anything specific that we can talk about?

A: "At the end of December, we were in a situation where both partners did not sign for the agreements to keep moving forward to a construction phase. That was something that we identified on December 21, and the city was very transparent and public about what was happening. Since that time, council reconvened and restated its commitment to creating a proper entertainment district, which is inclusive of an event centre."

"I think what happens now is we have a tremendous opportunity to identify all the components of that entertainment district and understand which ones need to move forward in which cadence. It was long felt that the events centre should be the first domino to fall, if you will. I don't know that that's necessarily the case anymore. We've had massive impacts to supply chain and expensive materials with the pandemic, so I think we're in a good place to regroup and to your specific question about partners. We are still happy to re-engage with Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corp., we are happy to be at the table with Calgary Stampede, as well as all of the other stakeholders in that area. And we'll see what happens as we move forward."

Christy Caswell
Christy Caswell

Q: There's been so many civic events and community celebrations cancelled during the pandemic. Is there something strategic in your vision that you want to bring to life for the city once this pandemic is sort of over?

A: "It's a good question. I think we're all longing for what that looks like the, you know, I don't even know if it's a return to normal, it's a return to something other than what we've been existing in. I look at high school students who graduated with no graduation, and I think, wouldn't it be amazing if we were able to use our our downtown circuit or space to move from, let's say, the Stampede grounds up to National Music Centre, over to the Central Library, through and over to Arts Commons and then down Stephen Avenue and celebrate those that graduated ... and doing some sort of a weird parade celebration thing. I don't even know what it looks like, but I feel bad that those kids missed out on a big celebration in the same way that I feel bad that people who were hitting landmark birthdays never got to do this with their families."

"So I would really like to see the city set aside a week of just celebrating whatever it is that you missed out on with us down here and in our other communities throughout the city. Just let's come together and celebrate anything that was important for you."

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